February Practice: Living in Someone Else's Shoes

Aerial view of long shadows and people walking

Photo: Tom Barnett via Unsplash

We believe that democracy as a way of life can be strengthened and deepened through spiritual practices—both those traditionally considered to be "inner work" and those that require active engagement with our neighbors and communities. In partnership with our friends at Spirituality & Practice, we are sharing monthly practices to help us all “practice democracy” from the inside out.

This practice, focused on empathy, comes from Bernie Siegel, MD, in 101 Exercises for the Soul.

"To truly be an activist, you need to understand what others are feeling and sincerely care about them and their plight. What you do not experience can be difficult to fully understand. Tourists and natives live a very different experience. I know as a doctor that I did not truly understand my patients' experience until I was a patient. When you step outside of your own experiences, you broaden your perspective and begin to take on a humanistic approach to life.

For this exercise, choose someone whose life is nearly the opposite of yours and visualize yourself in that person's place; become aware of how you feel and how the person might feel and why. What difficulties does this person face that you don't? How would you handle them if you did? When you acknowledge those with more troubles than you and reach out to help them, it provides your life with meaning. By becoming unselfish in thought and deed, you take the emphasis off your own troubles, and when you do this, you will be surprised by how much better you feel about your life.

The next time you see or meet someone who is down on their luck, think of what that must feel like and how the person might have gotten there. Be kind. If you offer nothing more than your time and thoughtfulness, you will make a difference."

Visit Spirituality & Practice's PracticingDemocracy.net for more practices on empathy as well as other resources.