get out of my shoes now



Empathy is the new black.

Schools are teaching empathy to children. Leaders are encouraged to display EQ as much as IQ. Many books explore building empathy. It’s a core coaching skill. Developmental psychiatrists and psychologists are exploring the roots of empathy in animals and the deep nature of its place in our humanity. True empathy is good. Deeply human.

To be clear empathy, as opposed to sympathy, could be described as feeling with someone, rather than feeling for someone. “I feel your anguish” as opposed to “I am sorry you’re hurting”.

It is standing in their shoes to experience their emotions.

But empathy requires thoughts as well as feelings. It is also a two person activity. So to be truly empathetic we need to balance thought and emotion as well as balance self and other. Recognising and sharing in someone else’s complex emotional state is in itself a complex inner experience, and it requires considerable self awareness and control to walk that line, be useful, be safe, keep them safe.

Otherwise empathy becomes a trap.

We can feel we are being held hostage by the other person’s feelings. Imprisoned in our own thought / feeling response. Balance requires us to have the self awareness and the dexterity and subtlety to pay attention to another’s needs whilst not sacrificing our own needs.¬†We need to be able to recognise what is our stuff and what belongs to the person we are empathising with. Also what emerges in the soup of the empathetic interaction. What needs to stay in the soup, neither theirs nor ours.

Putting ourselves in someone else’s shoes is something the receiver can find deeply rewarding. Addictive even. That puts the onus on us to know when to extract ourselves from their shoes. And how.

Equally, overly empathic people may lose the ability to know what they want or need. They may have a diminished ability to make decisions in their own best interest, experience physical and psychological exhaustion from deflecting their own feelings.

We need to be able to stand in our own shoes too.


what if people could hear your thoughts?

Inside me
What if the world was inside out?

Mostly our world is three dimensional.
An outside. A visible shape. An unseen interior.

I watched a young tree the other day blowing in the wind. I could see the sinewy branches dancing to the wind’s tune, waving in a frenetic chorus of communication. I could hear the wind rustling its leaves in an excited chatter. I could observe the trunk bending; flexing to ensure its very survival.

Yet I can’t see inside the tree. The stresses at a cellular level. Damage that might emerge later in life, with a fallen branch or twisted growth. I can’t see the break and heal process as leaves are stolen away by the wind.

Human beings are like this too.

What if the world were inside out?

What if I didn’t see the face you presented; the smile that cloaked the pain? Didn’t hear the words you spoke; the “I’m fine” you mask yourself with? Didn’t notice your visible actions, gestures and behaviours that consciously communicate a message, to unconsciously hide what you really need to say?

If the world were inside out, I might hear your thoughts rather than the words you say, feel your emotions rather than hear your label for them, experience your doubt, marvel in your strength, be transfixed by your beauty, know your vulnerability?

What if I could hear, see and feel your inner truth?

How would it be different?
How would I be different?
How would you be different?

Coming to the world as yourself, as an authentic version of you, requires huge courage and vulnerability. It demands you show a little more of your inside on the outside.

Image of body art by: Pastel-AI