"Walking a mile in someone else's shoes". We've heard this as part of idioms and probably treated it with dismay before but there's a very practical way to trying it. It's called perspective-taking. Looking at life from another person's eyes.
In simple words, "Perspective Taking" is making an educated guess as to what another person feels and thinks based on some knowledge we have. Therefore we can think of perspective-taking as the skill of predicting someone else's feelings and thoughts. Being better at it implies that we're getting more accurate predictions. Meaning, we are getting closer to what the other person feels and thinks.
We better understand that perspective-taking is a skill since it can be developed with practice. There are ways to actively train ourselves in this skill; and we should, there's much to gain from engaging in this activity and in this post I'm going to explore some of the benefits.
One benefit is emotional sturdiness. This is something that we heard growing up: "Don't judge other people until you walked a mile in their shoes". It implies that walking that mile might turn us less judgemental and more tolerant. It's true.
Being less judgemental means that we think less of the faults of people and thus feeling less dismay, disappointment, and resentment. All are known to induce negative physical effects (more on that in future posts).
Being more tolerant might help us connect better with the people around us and with our conversation partners. It might help us take interaction to a more productive place. Stronger connections lead to better new ones, better ground for business, and a better quality of life.
Engaging in the activity of taking the other's perspective of the world might reveal the reason behind some of their behaviors. It might tell us a bit of the state of mind that they're in and the background to their decisions.
Another benefit is cognitive. Practicing perspective-taking will make you a faster thinker, you might then start to see patterns in the behavior of people thus improving your abstract skills as well. Practicing will also make you better at it, better at tapping to the feelings and thoughts of other people. Understanding the hearts of people might help you be a better politician, a keener business person being able to seize more opportunities or a better manufacturer, designing products that closely address the needs of your customers.
The process of perspective-taking will sharpen your brain. Practicing it will help you perform it better and faster and apply it in more and more areas of your life.
Assuming that you've been convinced to give it a try, the question that arises now is "How"? This is a topic that can and should be elaborated, however, there are simple ways to start with.
Pick a person, any person. A close one. A distant one. A kindred spirit or maybe one that you think you just can't be any more different from each other.
Now using the information that you possess about the person you picked, try to walk yourself through a full day in their life. You wake up in their bad, near the person that also sleeps there, or maybe alone.
You need to do the chores and tasks you might think they need to do in the morning, maybe it's to get the kids ready for school, maybe it's just to drink coffee and eat scrambled eggs. This morning might have gone well, it might have not.
You need to get yourself ready to go to do the job you know that that person does. Spend a whole day there. Maybe they are in an exciting field. Maybe they are very fulfilled. Maybe they're in a dead-end. Maybe it was just another day.
Then, maybe you need to drive back home and meet the partner you know that person has, after the workday that that partner had. Or maybe it is to an empty house. Maybe a pet waits at home? Who takes care of it while they're (while you're) working?
You go to sleep in the other person's bed after a full day doing what they do. Try to reflect on how it might have felt, try hard to feel something. Try to deduce something out of it. Maybe several things. Try to understand something new about that person, something you can check. Something that maybe you can ask them if it's true or not.
If you managed to deduce some things that can be validated, you can recoil your process and do it again. Learn from the things you assumed wrongly. Was it because you were projecting yourself on the other person? Can you dive deeper this time using the newly gained information and conclusions?
This is just one way to train yourself in perspective-taking and more should be written on it. The major conclusion here should be that it's a skill that can be trained and there are reasons to do it.
This is a skill that I think should be taught at schools, at the earliest age possible. This skill can help create balanced adults, better thinkers, less road rage, more compassion, and greater understanding. Because at the root of it, that's what it is here, understanding.
Even if we don't agree with the other's course of action, at least we understand where it came from. If we understand, maybe we can approach them more efficiently. We now have a tool to make a better effort.