Blogging on The Brightside

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On Empathy and Elephants…

on February 20, 2014

It’s not really our style to write without a quote or clip for inspiration. But I’ve been struggling with writer’s block all year, and today my VP of Operations shared a metaphor that I knew I had to pass on to you.

long-tusked-elephant-0710

Consider a man standing face to face with an elephant. When you ask him to describe his experience, he says that when the elephant flaps his giant ears, the man is cooled by the breeze. He describes looking past the long lashes and into the eyes, into the gentle and wise soul of his huge companion. He describes being wrapped in the pachyderm’s powerful trunk and passing handfuls of peanuts through the ivory tusks and into the mammoth mouth.

Now consider a second man who is standing on the wrong side of the same elephant. When he tells his tale (pun intended) he says “It’s a giant butt. No really…it’s just a giant butt. Baby got back. Yesterday, this thing peed, and I about drowned. It pooped, and I’m still looking for my car. It stinks. A lot.”

Empathy is seeing the whole elephant. When you’re standing up front, don’t forget that it’s not all motherhood and apple pie. Somebody’s standing on the other side and dealing with the consequences of the actions taken at the front. The view’s not so magnificent, and they’re going to want to join you up front soon. When you’re standing on the back-side, consider what’s going on up front. When is it your turn to take over at the helm? When you’re up front, wouldn’t you want to be sure that someone was going to clean up the peanuts from the other side? Empathy is about seeing the whole elephant.

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