We’ve discovered that empathy is walking a mile in someone else’s shoes — to see the world as they see it. And if this person is important to you, then the things they see will be important to you as well.
So in this final look at empathy, let’s climb into Marti Fischer’s shoes and find out what’s important to her.
First, her shoes are going to be difficult to walk in because they have high heels. That’s because she always dresses up (she has one pair of jeans and the last time she wore them was about two years ago), and she does this because she always wants to present her best self, and she does that because people deserve it. Actually, pretty much everything deserves your best. “Anything worth doing is worth doing well,” is her mantra. It’s a guiding principle.
She wants things and property maintained — broken things fixed. Everything has a place, and it belongs there. And whenever we leave the house, of course the beds have to be made, and everything straight, because if there is a fire, the firemen will think she’s not a good housekeeper.
Marti wants the country respected in everything from paying taxes to honoring veterans. She wants bills paid on time because people deserve their money in a timely manner. She wants everyone treated with dignity from the least to the greatest. Actually, there are no “least of these” because they are all equally important.
Inside Marti’s shoes, guests are royalty and should be treated as such even if they don’t care. Workers who come to repair things get offered something to drink, which means I have to take care of this when she’s not here, and I inevitably have to give away the last two Cokes, which I hate doing. Hors d’oeuvres are important when entertaining guests because they make more time for talking over food which is the whole point. Food is only valuable in that it brings people together. It’s the relationships that count. She hardly eats anything when we entertain because she spends all her time and energy on the people. (She’s always hungry after everyone’s gone.)
Marti’s greatest source of joy is her children. Hands down. She will stop everything to pay attention to them. I can come and interrupt her work and I have to calculate the importance of the interruption because she will undoubtedly bite my ear off in the exchange. Five minutes later, however, Chandler can walk in and the presses stop. “Stop everything! Chandler wants to talk!” A phone call from Anne or Christopher? Same thing. And her granddaughter? That’s off the charts. We are required to take a gift for her every time we see her because it’s such fun to surprise her. That’s when Marti’s shoes come off and she’s down on the floor with Joci.
But most important of all, it’s a requirement for Marti that everyone hears about Jesus. That’s everyone on the planet. That’s because God’s verse to her, personally, shortly after becoming a Christian, was the call to preach the gospel to every creature. That’s what it says: “every creature,” without qualification. There’s just no wiggle room there at all.
This, of course, is not a complete list, but it is some of what you see and feel when you stand in Marti’s shoes. It’s the same for everyone, and the deeper you go, the more chance you have of finding need and pain. This, too, needs to be cared for.
Now this is the same process by which we care for anyone. Stand inside their shoes long enough to find out what they care about, and then care about that, too. Finally, we need to figure out what we can do to further the things that are important to them.
Empathy has many different levels and purposes, but it primarily works the same way in all cases. Get outside ourselves and into someone else, and care about what we find out.