What Does It Mean to Put Yourself on Someone Else’s Shoes?

By | 22/06/2015

One of the most complex psychical operations we learn, when we’re around seven years old, is to leave ourselves behind and figure out how others are feeling. Suddenly, while looking out a window on a rainy day, we can imagine – which, in a way, means also feeling – how cold might another little boy be, outside without a coat.

Our ability to imagine what’s going on with someone else is a double-edged sword. The most common mistake, which has serious consequences to interpersonal relationships, is trying to predict a reaction someone else would have based on what we’d do in their place, instead of trying to feel like they would. We think people are right when they act like we think we would in a similar situation, and wrong when they don’t – even when it’s a situation we’ve never experienced.

When we put ourselves in someone else’s place, we use our personal code of conduct. We put on their shoes but, so to speak, we keep what can be called, for all intents and purposes, “our soul”. We seem to believe that everyone’s soul is identical, or at least similar, so whenever someone doesn’t act as we think we would in their place, it’s a disappointment – even when the situation is completely unrelated to us. It reminds us of the painful fact we always try to hide: we are alone in the world.

We become overbearing, without even realizing it, because we wish others would behave according to our personal beliefs. It’s always, “this is what I’d do, in their place”.

It is especially true when the act we object to actually affects us. If someone was rude to us when we wouldn’t have been, in their place, we feel doubly betrayed: by the act of aggression and by the fact their reaction was unexpected and unlike ourselves. It’s our eternal dilemma, not knowing how to live with the fact that we are unique and are, therefore, alone.

Those who are capable to accept that people are more different from each other than we were taught develop a true tolerance to conflicting points of view and are able to not feel personally offended by a difference of opinion. They can, at last, see objectively that other people are not them and, when they put themselves in someone’s shoes, they’ll try to get in their soul, not just transfer their own to someone else’s body. This is how true communication begins.

Tradução: Amanda Morris