"I thought it was I alone who suffered. I went on top of the house and found every house on fire." -Baba Sheikh Farid
Empathy is tough. I think thoughtful people can put themselves into other people's shoes – writers do it pretty effectively all the time – but I don't think it really ever hits home until you actually do the proverbial "walk a mile in another person's shoes". I watched the story on PBS about malnutrition in Guatemala, and the current president was approached by a consortium of government and private sector big shots with an idea: to get 3000 people of influence and/or wealth to stay one night or a weekend in a home of an impoverished family. The president thought it was an excellent idea. With his help, they managed to get 1500 individuals into impoverished homes, including the president himself and everyone in his cabinet. Here's the link to the malnutrition story where I heard about this mass exercise in empathy:http://www.pbs.org/newshour/updates/land-plenty-reporters-snapshots-malnutrition/Interestingly, my friend Andre went to a rather unique way of eating out the other day, which also turned into an exercise in empathy. I don't know if you've heard of these restaurants where people dine out in complete darkness and they are served by sight impaired waiters or waitresses, but she went to one of these restaurants in downtown Vancouver, and he said it was the most interesting dining experience he's ever had. It could easily be something you could do with your students.I've also heard of nursing schools making their students spend a day in a wheelchair. These type of experiences are eye-opening I'm sure. I spent a good chunk of my childhood in very poor Latin American countries, and my parents never sheltered us from going out and playing with the local kids; we spent a majority of her time playing marbles in the dirt streets with the local kids or helping them hunt iguanas for them to eat and other stuff. It gave me a very real sense of what their lives are like day to day.I think it's really the only way to secure the type of empathy that sticks with you, that's not just manufactured and artificial. In this Guatemala piece, three heads of industry talk about their experiences on this overnighter and how it drove home the real needs of the poorer sections of the country.