Do You Show Empathy?
Do for others what you would like them to do for you. This is a summary of all that is taught in the law and the prophets. Matthew 7:12
In the children’ wing of the Grace New Haven Hospital the play-therapy program was having a problem. The janitor was angry and harsh with the children when they dropped paint and clay on his clean floors. The nurses got angry, too, but with the janitor. If he had not been working at the hospital for a long time, they would have gotten him fired.
One day the head nurse watched the old man, as he scrubbed and polished the floors with his back bent. Then she put herself in his shoes. She concluded that he had been scrubbing and polishing that floor for years, until he had rubbed something of himself into it. The she carefully explained to the old fellow just how the children’s activities were helping them to get well. He got the picture. Now when he wipes up paint and clay, he sees himself as being part of the child’s recovery.
Psychologists call it role-playing. Christians call it the Golden Rule. The world calls it nonsense. Here’s how Jesus put it: “Do for others what you would like them to do for you. This is a summary of all that is taught in the law and the prophets” (Matthew 7:12, NLT). These words are the basis of the Golden Rule. It actually means: Put yourself in your neighbor’s shoes and then treat him as you want him to treat you.
The nurse put Jesus’ words into action. Psychologists say she used empathy. She learned to appreciate the old fellow’s feelings and yet not become so emotionally involved that her own sense of judgment was affected. Using empathy, or exercising the Golden Rule, is a type of role-playing. You ask yourself, “Why does so-and- so feel as he does?” Then, you try and think as he thinks. What makes him act as he does? If you were facing the same problems and circumstances that he is facing, how would you respond? You realize that in all probability you would not act a lot different than he does. Part of it is understanding. The problem with most of us is that we feel there are two ways to look at any situation—our way and the wrong way.
To put yourself in someone’s shoes means that you have to forget yourself, and that is a pretty hard task. It is so easy to have a high opinion of ourselves and a low one of our neighbor or others.
Have you ever asked God to help you see the other person’s viewpoint? Have you ever prayed for the one who irritates you and constantly rubs you the wrong way? Chances are you have not. Let me share with you a secret. If you are big enough to drop to your knees and ask God to help you love that person that seems so unlovable, you will see his point of view much easier. No, we have to admit that when we see others as they see us, we look a lot different. The words of Christ serve as guidelines for living a useful, purposeful life; but unless you follow His counsel, it will do you no good. Read the Bible, and incorporate its teaching into your life.
Question: Is there someone in your life like the old janitor, who annoys you because of what he or she does? Before you react in anger, put yourself in his or her shoes. How does life look from the other’s vantage point? An old proverb says you have no right to criticize another until you have walked a mile in his moccasins. It’s true.
Resource reading: Matthew 7