See It From Their Perspective

By Marjorie Foerster Eddington

Haven’t we felt the strong desire for others to see things from our side, to listen to what we actually mean, and to be understood? So how do we get this wish fulfilled? And if we yearn for empathy, don’t others want it, too? So if everybody is waiting to be understood, who is going to do the understanding?

Who is going to make the first move to be the one to see things from the other’s perspective, to be empathetic? Empathy means we can put ourselves in others’ shoes, feel what they might be feeling, see the world from their vantage point.

What would happen if we make the first move? If instead of waiting for others to listen to our side of the story, we first listen to theirs? How would our relationships change? Is it possible that we would end up feeling better about ourselves?

Why should we be the first to be empathetic?

  • We’re following the Golden Rule and being pro-active in our kindness. We’re treating others they way we want to be treated—respectfully. We’re following Jesus’ example.
  • Being empathetic actually helps solve problems and brings about peace. If we can sit in the other person’s seat and see how they view the situation, we are aware of what we could do to build bridges and find answers together.
  • Understanding others gives us more compassion for them and strengthens relationships. When we listen to and understand others, we feel closer to them. As a result, they may want to listen to us.
  • Seeing things from others’ viewpoints can actually help us achieve our own goals. We’re aware of where they’re coming from so we know what arguments we have to make to win them over to our side.

Doing our best to understand others can bless them in ways we can’t predict. Maybe they feel alone in life, that no one understands them. Listening to them with our hearts may actually lift them from depression. They’re not alone. Someone else cares. Our listening, empathetic heart can change someone’s life … and even change our own.

When we see things from others’ perspectives, we realize that they may be right. So we’ve learned something new. We may find a new friend. We’ve expanded our life and opened up ourselves to greater possibilities.

Life gives us plenty of opportunities to practice empathy. Let’s take rumors as a case study. If we think about how the “objects” of the rumor would feel, we wouldn’t start rumors. If we put ourselves in their shoes, we would realize that we would feel awful, embarrassed, sad, angry, etc. So we would not even let the words out of our mouths. Or if we hear it from someone else, we would squash it.

But what if we are the object of the rumor? It’s harder, but not impossible. Maybe this rumormongering is just a symptom covering up the real problem. Maybe those who started it are feeling insecure, jealous, fearful. Being empathetic helps give us perspective so that we don’t get upset by the rumor or angry at the individuals. We realize it’s their problem, not ours. We don’t have to carry other people’s emotional baggage around with us.

Then we can meet them with love, even if they’re not loving to us. “Love your enemies,” Jesus tells us; “bless those that curse you, do good to those that hate you, and pray for those who speak evil about you” (Matt 5:44 JUB). And if love seems too hard, we can at least bless them, be respectful and gracious to them. We can forgive them and give them another chance. Don’t we all want another chance?

And even if we feel that people aren’t standing in line to understand us, we can take comfort in one tremendous truth: God understands us. God loves us. God is pleased with us: “And God saw every thing that he had made, and, behold, it was very good” (Gen 1:31 KJV). It’s with God’s goodness that we can seek to understand others and enable them the opportunity to feel God’s love. That makes us feel God’s love, too. And isn’t that worth it!