Putting ourselves in the other person’s shoes

In the book Count Your Chickens Before They Hatch, author Arindam Chaudhuri describes an incident which he read in Tagore’s biography: One day, when Tagore rebuked his long-time servant for reporting a few hours late for work, the servant apologetically explained to Tagore that he was late because he had had to cremate his son who had died the same morning.

Chaudhuri states that after reading about this incident, he makes it a point to find out things from the other person’s point of view before passing any judgement. He states, “While dealing with people I never forget one very important principle – of trying to put myself in the other person’s shoes and understanding his part of the bargain. There are times when you feel that the other person has committed the biggest mistake of his life and he should not be spared. But, before blasting him, do try to find out his point of view.”

I had described a somewhat similar incident in my post Benefit of doubt.

Most of us do give the benefit of doubt to others, but do we give everybody this benefit of doubt? Or do we give immense amounts of benefit of doubt to people who are wealthier and/or more powerful and/or better connected than us, and little or no benefit of doubt to people if we are wealthier and/or more powerful and/or better connected than them and we are definitely unlikely to need their help in any way in the foreseeable future?


A friend sent me the following true story:

One day, a schoolteacher assigned each of her 5th Grade students a simple task e.g. bringing chalk pieces from the store, bringing a book from the staff room, bringing a glass of water from the water cooler, etc. The student was blindfolded, while a classmate would walk behind him to ensure that he did not injure himself. After performing the tasks, everyone realized how simple tasks became so difficult when one was blindfolded.

Next day, when they visited the School for the Blind along with their teacher, all these students were really appreciative about the work done by the blind students – the handicrafts, written books etc. They did not pity the blind children or look down on them; they empathized with them and respected them!

What a simple and lovely way to make young children empathize with the differently-abled! If we all tried to empathize with people who are in some way different from us, the world would be a better place.

Before we pass judgment on persons who have behaved in what we consider a foolish or abnormal manner, we must ask ourselves how we might have behaved if we had been in that person’s circumstances.