I find it hard to learn from others’ experience. When I watch a movie or read a book I don’t always get the full emotional experience of the story’s characters. I think it’s all quite natural, but I think it gives at least a part reason for learning better form my own experiences—which are often chock-full of emotion—than from reading about others’.
I remember whitewater rafting on the Zambezi when my friend Jacquee and I fell out of our raft. We were plunge underwater by the rapids and held there by the current for what seemed like forever. When we finally popped up to the surface, caught our breath and were reunited with our raft, the only person I could meaningfully relate my experience to was her, though everyone had been thrown overboard when the raft capsized.
It’s the emotion of an experience that makes me empathize. And if I empathize with someone else, I see their world a bit from their own unique perspective. If I don’t empathize then the experience gets lost in translation.
Last week at work, I had the delightful experience of being screwed by a landlady. Negotiating in bad faith, she didn’t want to give-and-take, just take. And because I had no other lease options, I had to swallow hard and accept her lob-sided terms.
It was a new feeling for me. Here we are, working hard to make our business work, and what does she do but get greedy and raise her rent to undeservedly take the fruits of our labour. Rightly or wrongly, it’s I felt.
Incredibly, the next thing that came to me was empathy, though empathy for a only tangentially similar group of people halfway around the world—the operators and engineers of fort McMurray, Alberta, who, having worked for an entire generation to squeeze oil from sand, felt they were set on by a pack of ravenous citizens wanting nothing less than the wealth they had worked so hard to create.
Not until being jerked around over a leave agreement did I empathize with the oil patch before. In fact, I was one of those citizens pressing for higher royalties. But now, strangely, I feel the close tug of connection.