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I like to watch my 20-month old grandson hanging around wearing one or both of his 8-year old brother’s sneakers. Or his Daddy’s black dress shoes. Or his 5-year-old brother’s crocs.
With his back straight, his stomach out and his hand swinging by his side, he traipses around from room to room picking up little toy cars and other stuff he finds. He’s on a mission. A shoe wearing mission. A big boy mission.
Every so often, his big brother will kneel down, make eye contact with the shoe-wearing toddler and ask politely, “Hey, can I have my shoes back? I need them.”
To which the big-shoe wannabe will smile, shake off the large shoes and go to retrieve another set of big shoes in the house. Or maybe he’ll settle for his own shoes which he doesn’t wear for long. He usually kicks off one or both of his own shoes and holds it in his hand — as if to keep it safe. Then, he walks around with his own.
But when he’s wearing the oversized shoes of someone else he has that determined look.
He’s practicing being big. He’s mesmerized by the big people’s shoes and he likes to feel what it’s like to walk in those big shoes. Why? Maybe because it’s fun and it’s new and it’s something outside of himself.
Actually, I’ll never know for sure but when I watch him, I see a confident, happy child wearing something oversized, and loving every minute of it.
Nobody is bothered by it (except for the older brother who needs them back!) and the big-shoe-wearer is happy.
Yes, imagination. Playing. Practicing for when he’s really big like his brothers and his Daddy.
Don’t judge another person until you’re in his shoes.
It’s when the big-shoe-wearer imagines what it’s like to be wearing someone else’s and critiques how the other person wears their shoes.
I can’t imagine my little grandson judging anyone. He’s so sweet, accepting and smiley. (And oh yes, he’s only 20 months, right?)
But me, I learn from him. His walking around in big shoes teaches me about empathy. Feeling the experience of wobbling, stumbling, marching in its entirety without judgment.
What does it feel like to be that person wearing his or her shoes? Not – what does it feel like to be Me wearing his or her shoes? Because that’s not the point.
It’s important to remember that we each have our own experiences in the shoes we wear, big or little.
We need to imagine what it’s like to be the other person – with his experiences, life situation, abilities and history – walking in his shoes. That’s empathy.
Researchers generally define empathy as the ability to sense other people’s emotions, coupled with the ability to imagine what someone else might be thinking or feeling. (google.com)
Just like my grandson does. He’s not thinking of the right way or the wrong way. He’s just putting himself in another person’s shoes and feeling the experience.
And that to me, is empathy.
Tags: big shoes, empathy, grandsons, judgments, kids play, little shoes, shoes, toddlers