A mile in someones shoes

Today was all about EMPATHY, something I would like to think I am no stranger to. We discussed the importance of empathy in peer mentoring, and how at its core is active listening – though this alone is not enough. 

The good ol’ OED defines Empathy as “The ability to understand and share the feelings of another”. The Cambridge dictionary, desperate as always to step out of shadows goes a little further, adding by imagining what it would be like to be in that person’s situation”.  

Therein lies the trick. It’s not enough simply to sympathise and offer platitudes. Sometimes you have to not only understand what something is, but how it feels in itself. Of course this is a slippery slope, and you must always remember not to lose yourself in the emotions of someone else. Maybe I’m not making it clear enough? Let me hand you over to Carl Rogers and we will see if he can simplify it a little.

“The state of empathy, or being empathic, is to perceive the internal frame of reference of another with accuracy and with the emotional components and meanings which pertain thereto as if one were the person, but without ever losing the “as if” condition. This it means to sense the hurt or the pleasure of another as he senses it and to perceive the causes thereof as he perceives them, but without ever losing the recognition that it is as if I were hurt or pleased and so forth. If this “as if” quality is lost, then the state is one of identification. ” – Carl Rogers A Way Of Being (p 140)

 Still lost? Maybe this video we watched in our lecture will help?

I guess the lesson here is not to put someone in their place unless you have tried putting yourself their first..?

Next came the dreaded weekly activity. Yay for role play! We were put into groups of three and presented wth a scenario (see ours below) and were asked to discuss possible responses and then act out the scene for the class. Luckily we didn’t do ours (HURRAH!) but it was certainly fun and interesting watching the groups who did perform. We gave feedback on various scenarios as a class, and acknowledged that sometimes – empathetically speaking – the best response was sometimes to acknowledge you didn’t have an answer, but that maybe you could find one together. So the bear from that video WAS right!


After this we went to collect our mentees. We had a good solid turn out, with the majority staying for a full hour. There was noticeably much more engagement from the mentees, and while I can’t speak for the other mentors, I personally felt much more relaxed about our approach and I think this was positively reflected in all our engagements. We helped some students with their class blogs, gave others information on resources for helping them improve their referencing, and just generally talked with them about what they had been doing. All in all a super successful day.


2 thoughts on “A mile in someones shoes

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