YOUTH: You may have forgotten it, but I remember it well. Three years ago, you made an assertion that went something like this: we do not live in an objective world, but in a subjective world that we have given meaning to. The issue that we must focus on is not how the world is, but how we see the world. And also, we cannot escape our subjectivity.
    PHILOSOPHER: Yes, that’s right.
    YOUTH: Then, tell me this: how is it possible that we who cannot escape subjectivity could have the eyes of another or the ears of another or even the heart of another? If only you would stop playing around with words!
    PHILOSOPHER: This is a crucial point. It is true that one cannot escape subjectivity. And one cannot become another person, of course. However, one can imagine what appears in other people’s eyes, and one can imagine the sounds their ears hear. Adler proposes the following: first of all, think, ‘What if I had the same kind of heart and life as this person?’ If one does that, one should be able to understand that ‘I would probably be faced with the same sort of task as this person.’ And from that point, one should be able to imagine further, that ‘I would probably deal with it in the same sort of way.
    YOUTH: The same kind of heart and life?
    PHILOSOPHER: Say, for example, that there is a student who never even tries to study. Questioning the student by saying ‘Why don’t you study?’ is an attitude completely lacking in respect. Instead, start by thinking, ‘What if I had the same heart as him? What if I had the same life as him?’ In other words, one thinks what it would be like if one were the same age as the student, lived in the same household and had the same friends and the same interests and concerns. If one does so, one should then be able to imagine what sort of attitude that self would adopt upon being faced with the task of one’s studies or why that self would refuse to study. Do you know what this sort of attitude is called?
    YOUTH: Imagination?
    PHILOSOPHER: No. This is what we call ‘empathy’.
    YOUTH: Empathy? That’s what you call thinking about what it would be like to have the same kind of heart and the same kind of life?
    PHILOSOPHER: Yes. What is generally thought of as empathy, that is to say, agreeing with another person’s opinion and sharing their feelings, is just sympathy, not empathy. Empathy is a skill, an attitude that one has when walking side by side with another.
    YOUTH: A skill! Empathy is a skill?
    PHILOSOPHER: That’s right. And since it is a skill, it is something that you, too, can attain.
    YOUTH: Oh, well, isn’t this interesting? Okay, then, I want you to explain it as a skill. How can one know the other person’s ‘heart and life’ or whatever you call it, anyway? By doing counselling for each person, one by one? Hah, there’s no way you could learn such things!
    PHILOSOPHER: That’s exactly why one has concern for other people’s concerns. One must not just observe from a distance. One must dive in oneself. You are just standing in a high place without ever diving in and making remarks such as ‘There’s no way to do this’ or ‘There’s such a barrier.’ There is no respect in that and no empathy, either.
    YOUTH: No way; you’re wrong! That’s totally wrong!
    PHILOSOPHER: What is wrong about it?
    Wadifa Club
    writer and blogger, founder of Dog food planet .

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