By Aadil Fahim, Manager – Communications, Branding & Volunteer Development, AFS Intercultural Programs India

Try wearing someone else’s shoe. It can be of your friend, partner, parents or anyone you know. Walk around a bit. How do you feel? What do you see? What do you experience? Is the shoe very loose for you? Or is it too tight?  Is it too small or too wide? Is it is too comfortable or too uncomfortable? Ask yourself these questions. Sit down and close your eyes and think about the person’s shoe you’re wearing, how it’d feel like being them and living their life. I hope you are able to think of them at least, or if you know them well, you can imagine their life, their way of living and more. If you’re able to relate to the person and understand their feeling, you’re being empathic, and that’s a great power! If you are not able to relate much, don’t worry.  

The word ‘empathy’ originated in the early 20th century from Greek word empatheia (from em- ‘in’ + pathos ‘feeling’). According to, ‘empathy’ is described as “the ability to understand and share the feelings of another”. When it comes to being empathic, one needs to focus on understanding the emotions to understand the feelings. 

Empathy is something that has been given a lot of importance everywhere now. With the changing world, empathy has become one of the crucial 21st-century life-skills that one needs to have to be a better human being. People around us in our community, school, college, offices and circle need to be welcomed and understood. They need to be accepted. We need to see the world for what it has become. We need to see how the global issues are affecting the people and community around us. We must start to see the challenges that now exist everywhere. We need to feel how a refugee feels being away from home; how a person feels when they are discriminated on the basis of their religious choice or their background, sex, caste or their orientation; or how one doesn’t even feel secure living in their own home, and are just surviving but not living their life because of the war that’s going on in their own country; or how one feels when they are not given what they deserve or what they’ve worked so hard for; or how a kid feels when he gets food only once in a day; or how women are not respected in the community and their freedom is reduced to nothing; or how a mother feels when she has to see her child’s health deteriorating and she can’t do anything about it. We need to feel what the other feels. We need to develop enough intercultural sensitivity and empathy to look at others without judgement and prejudice. Perhaps, to do that we need to unlearn to learn so many new things or we need to start relating to them more by listening to their needs, stories and experiences. Understanding someone by stepping into their shoes and discovering more about them is the first step towards better understanding.

Empathizing is a great tool to understand and share the feelings. Many have shared that the power of empathy can’t be learned as it’s one of those innate traits that you’re born with, but there are many others who have argued in the favour that one can learn to be empathic if they practice reading the situation and people by being aware. According to the article, “Six Habits of Highly Empathic People”, written by Roman Krznaric, the founding faculty member of The School of Life in London and empathy advisor to organizations including Oxfam and the United Nations, anyone can make empathy an attitude by adding these habits in their lives:   

  • Habit 1: Cultivate curiosity about strangers 
  • Habit 2: Challenge prejudices and discover commonalities
  • Habit 3: Try another person’s life
  • Habit 4: Listen hard—and open up
  • Habit 5: Inspire mass action and social change
  • Habit 6: Develop an ambitious imagination

My appeal to all of you is that we all should focus on being more empathic and take a step towards learning and improving each day to have a better grip on understanding and sharing another’s feelings. 

Mohsin Hamid, a Pakistani Novelist, said that “Empathy is about finding echoes of another person in yourself.” If we are able to understand each other by stepping in the other person’s bubble, by diving into their beliefs, values, by being more welcoming and trying to find echoes of the other person in ourselves, we will be able to create a better understanding between each other which will help us make a better world.”