I am one of those people who do my empathizing from my desk. I find myself looking at the world through other’s perspective, through fiction, mostly.
I might be watching a program on the computer and come to a place where the interaction or reaction of one characters makes me wonder how I would handle that situation. And I push pause and continue the situation/conversation/reaction I am exploring with my own view. Then I put myself in that characters persona, and try to see how they are going to react to, or handle the problem. What will they say, what direction are they coming from? Then I watch it on the film and stop it again to see if I can figure out why they didn’t react the way I thought they should.
Okay, not the best way to do it, because the writers have their own agenda that will affect the way they want the character to act, but it does give me a good exercise into peoples interactions and looking at the world from different directions.
I have always been good at explaining something to others when in a conversation. I watch their reactions to what I am saying and monitor their understanding of what I am trying to get across. I need to find and use examples that they can relate to, in order for them to value what I am saying. This a good practical application of empathy.
I actually learned this many years ago when a book called the Day of the Triffids came out. In it was a character who could walk into any gathering of people and have them understand whatever point of view he was addressing. They valued his approach enough to listen. The first step in agreement or at least arbitration, is listening. The way he did this is to speak to them on their own social/intellectual level.
If talking to experts on a field, he would dress and speak in a cultured and intellectual manner, using terms they were familiar with, that told them he knew the territory and was no uninformed outsider.
When talking to a bunch of dock workers, or field hands, for instance, he would arrive dressed as they were and use the vernacular they did. Using a casual attitude and examples based on their type experiences, and words they were easy with made them listen to him as one of them, who knew what was going on.
I did this automatically at an early age. I think of it as being a human camellian. When with adults my attitude was always respectful and good at listening. (Something old people and teachers especially appreciated) And responded with adult level speech.
When with one friend I was good at talking and making up stories and adventures, because that is what she loved. With another, it was riding bikes, taking walks, climbing trees, going to the trampolines or rollerskating rink, because she was an active person. With another it was game boards and art. Sit down activities.
So jumping from experiential sharing, to thought sharing, to thought projecting, and then to thought teaching, was a natural progression for me.
It also had a spiritual effect on me.
All these things make me better at living in an empathic manner with a true empathic feel and understanding of the vastly rich pool of experiences and views that we humans really are. Each individual a different story with a view and understanding based on their own experiences and background.
The song “Walk a Mile in My Shoes” is a small first step, but what it should be saying is walk a mile in THEIR shoes! You cannot judge any person based on your own experiences. Your own strengths. Your own weaknesses. So how can you decide, on your own, that this or that person is bad or good, or less or more than you are?
If you start communication based on prejudgmental attitudes, is it any wonder that you cannot connect? But! Approach them intellectually on a mutual ground of respect and acceptance and you can have a true sharing, a real shared understanding of BOTH views and perhaps an insite as to how the other view was formed. All those people out there are the same as me… part of me in a way. They just have different views and ways of expressing their own personality and experiences. Some in positive ways and some in negative ways, but all shaped by the life they lived.
If I cannot reach back into their lives and change anything they experienced then I should not judge the subsequent imprint it made in their lives. (And if I COULD do so, I would have to judge ME for being the cause of their imprinting! Not a thought to be taken lightly.)
So Jesus’ teaching of ‘judge not lest ye be judged’ is a real empathy booster. “Love thy neighbor as thyself’ is also empathic. It does not mean you are an egoist any more than it mean you need to go out and hug everyone. But it does mean that mutual consideration, and an attempt at understanding is imperative in living as He wants us to.