Want to play a game of empathy? Imagine yourself without your greatest strength, the characteristic you feel most proud of ... and then fantasize away a major weakness. Are you strong but inarticulate? Put yourself in a crippled body with the spirit of a poet. Are you well-educated but lack physical beauty? Be, in your mind's eye, stunning in appearance and utterly ignorant. Are you a sharp thinker who feels deep existential doubts? Dream of a life with absolute faith in God but minimal ability to reason critically. Are you patient with others but uninterested in academic pursuits? Try the life of a short-tempered professor. Do you scorn popular pursuits but sit lonely at home every night? Turn into a life-of-the-party sports fan.

The game is fun, but has a serious goal: to become a person radically different from your norm, at least momentarily. There are plenty of such individuals in the world. What if you yourself were one? Would you deserve less respect, less concern, than you currently merit?

And if changing your psychological bent is too easy, go further and alter your race, sex (or sexual orientation), economic status, and nationality. What's it like to look out through the eyes of such people? To be treated the way they are?

I'm quite comfortable where I am; I've spent my whole life getting here. It's tough for me to imagine myself otherwise. Doing so, once in a while, seems to help knock me out of my chair. Some people's "irrational" behavior suddenly becomes more comprehensible. And maybe if I try to be them, and they try to be me, we'll all figure out how to do a bit better for each other.

Friday, March 03, 2000 at 06:00:07 (EST) = 2000-03-03


(correlates: SplitsAndJoins, AgesOfWork, LookingDown, ...)