Welcome to a new week! Let’s try to get through this one with grace, kindness, and goodwill toward our fellow people. To help you on your journey, here is another installment of our empathy round-up, brought to you by needing a nap after talking about your feelings. These articles focus on people literally putting themselves in the shoes of a marginalized person. It’s not easy work, but absolutely worth doing.
- A company that packages pills for those who have to take a lot of pills — the elderly and those with chronic illnesses — puts its employees through an “empathy training” orientation in which they have to interact with pill bottles through thick glasses that impair their vision and with gloves that reduce their dexterity. The trainer reminds them while they’re fumbling with difficult-to-open and difficult-to-read pill bottles that just one pill dropped on the floor could mean a sick or dead grandchild or beloved pet. No pressure! It’s a great example of empathy at work in design and customer service.
- And in San Francisco, a group of prosecutors and police officers took a three-day immersion course in homelessness that allowed them to “fully take in and absorb a reality that can’t just be swept away.” The course is run by Glide Memorial Church, which regularly fights for the poor and disenfranchised with a goal of radical inclusivity.
The rabbi tells each person in the group to spend 20 minutes “meandering” down the street, trying to be “as present as possible.” “I want you to notice beauty, ” he tells them — but also “spend maybe a third or half of your time looking at the pain.”
He points out the Four Seasons Hotel a few blocks away, where some rooms cost more than $700. Where they are standing, he says, you can at the same time see that temple of privilege and a desperate person rifling through trash.
He asks that they hold both realities in their heads “and maybe let that break you a little.”
- Finally, here is the story of Alka Gunjal, a woman in India who has taken the sex workers in her community into her heart in a big way. She has educated them on the importance of HIV testing, leading many of them to get tested and seek treatment; she works with area law enforcement to speak on behalf of the 2,000 sex workers that she has touched with her outreach; she has created support groups among the workers; she works to protect their children from sexual predators and enroll them in school. All of this because she was curious as a child about why a woman would become a sex worker and realized that the choice to do so didn’t mean that they were bad people. She confronted her own biases early on in life and has turned it into years of advocacy that has saved lives.
As you head into this week, maybe try to put yourself in someone else’s shoes. It could be your annoying coworker, it could be the guy asking you for change on the street, it could be someone fumbling in front of you in line at the grocery store. Just take a breath, ask yourself how you can help, and let’s see what kind of good we can bring about. Sound good? Good.