Wednesday, November 14, 2012

8 of the Best Ways to Step Inside the Shoes of Another


If you’ve visited here much you know I’m a huge proponent of empathy. I believe it transforms characters to become more authentic in novels, it draws people closer together, diminishes the fierce intensity to judge, and provides countless opportunities for us to grow.
Whether we’re trying to better understand our main characters or that family member who keeps confusing us into next week…

Here’s my I 8 Wednesday list of ways to step inside someone else’s shoes:
Understand How She Communicates

Some are talkers. Some are writers. Some express freely. Some shy away. Some are passive aggressive. She has experienced life. She wants to share—how will she go about doing so?
Consider Her Past

Everyone has been hurt. And everyone’s hurt places tell a story about who they are today. Scars, emotional or physical can stand out like the equator when we’re trying to understand the map of one’s soul.
Share Her Dreams and Failures

She has hopes. She’s failed. Both have influenced the person she has become. Take a moment to imagine her dreaming…and failing. Is she inspired by People or National Geographic? Does she give up easily or dig in until her fingers bleed?
Which Relationships Does She Value Most & Which Does She Fear Most

What’s that saying that we become most like the five people we spend the most time with? Who does she surround herself with? Who terrifies her? Why?
From R.E.M. to Early When She Rises

Our thoughts are often freshest in the morning, most unscathed by the distractions of the day. Attempt to wake up in her skin, facing the day as she might. Is she wide-eyed, bounding from the bed full of exuberance or dragging herself to the coffee pot as she smashes sleep further into her eyes?
Work with Her

Does she like what she does? If not, does she have a hobby or something she pours herself into outside of work that fulfills her? Take on her hobby for one day.
Take Yourself out of the Equation

We’re all influenced by our own life experiences. Make a concerted effort to view the world as she might. Strip yourself of any preconceived judgment likely waiting to pounce. Does she handle her emotions and take on the world vastly different than you do?
What is She Hiding

So much of communication is unspoken. What do you suspect she hasn’t told anyone? Or only a trusted few? What does this secret say about her?
I believe empathy is one of the most effective antidotes to judgment. We all judge, it’s part of our wiring. But there is a way to salve the sting of our judgment—by cultivating a spirit of empathy.

When is the last time you felt compelled to become more empathic toward someone?

*photos by stock.XCHNG

 

16 comments:

  1. Excellent post, Wendy.

    I've always taught my kids not to get upset at people who snap at you, or act out...you never know where they have been, or what they had to do to come through a hard time.

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    1. I find I have to teach this over and over again to myself. ;-) I love when it finally clicks.

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  2. Excellent list!

    One thing I try to do is listen to what's NOT being said, instead of all the things that are.

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    1. Love this, though my mind can get pretty crowded with assumptions on this one.

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  3. I'm striving to not take things as personally. That has helped me to be more empathetic. Usually a rude comment or a bad mood from someone isn't about me at all.

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    1. HUGE! King Kong big. Such an important one for me to remember.

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  4. I'm learning to empathize by watching my husband, who has deep wells of empathy, patience, grace, and forgiveness. I know this because he pours them out on me daily. :)

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  5. Excellent post, as always, Wendy.

    I was recently surprised by a wave of empathy that washed over my heart when a person I'd long thought of as a total rascal got sick. I knew that compassion came from Jesus' heart!

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  6. I'm so empathetic it hurts. I feel others' pain deeply and care intensely, so much so that at times I wish I could do a better job distancing myself. I'm a total mess after disasters such as the Waldo Canyon Fire or Hurricane Sandy and have a hard time functioning because I'm so busy thinking about and praying for those who are suffering.

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    1. Yeah, it's kind of a curse. Have to be careful not to enmesh too much. I love your heart and sensitivity--the world needs people like you!

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  7. I've been told before that I lack perspective, so empathy is something I try to practice more often. It's weird - I love to read and write, yet sometimes it's hard for me to read people.

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    1. I think it's hard for all of us. It goes against our nature--to empathize. And people can really throw us. I know I've been thrown. Thought I had someone's character pretty well figured out--then not so much. Thanks for the RT!

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  8. Miss you NaNo folks. Hope those words are just pouring out of you and the month has been productive. I have some uber (see two dots above u) exciting guest posts coming soon!

    So grateful for the comments and online mentions. You all make blogging a blast!

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  9. I love this, Wendy. I'm developing characters for my new book, and studying their personalities has opened my eyes to insights about my loved ones and myself. It's amazing how much empathy comes from understanding.

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  10. I love this. I think one of the most important traits of a good writer is that she be empathetic. You have to walk in the shoes of so many characters, it's an absolute necessity! Great post! <3

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