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An Empathy How To...

My dad’s a veterinarian, and it’s funny to me, knowing my dad my whole life and how no-nonsense he is, to watch him interact with his patients and their owners, playing off of their behavior.

A while ago I was visiting my dad at his clinic. On this visit, my dad’s treating a dog for a woman who brought her dog in for an

annual checkup. The dog is sitting on the table, so that my dad can give him a shot.

All of a sudden, the woman starts telling the dog about the shot as if she’s talking to her kid. When you’re talking to a kid that can understand your English, you’re like, “Okay, calm down. It’s just going to hurt for a little bit. It’s just going to be a little pinch.” But you can actually explain it to a kid. The dog’s got no idea what she’s saying. And she’s sitting there going, “It’s just going to hurt for a little bit.” And the little dog is just grinning.

My dad, the veterinarian, actually says, “Oh, yeah, it’ll only hurt for a little bit.” And then he pulls out of the drawer a little treat. And he goes, “And we give a treat away.” Which is totally the same way you’d be with a kid.

The treat is actually a dog bone, but it’s wrapped in the same type of packaging that you’d get a protein bar in. You can’t really smell anything through that kind of packaging. And my dad holds the treat up to the dog’s nose. And he goes, “Yeah, you get this treat.” And the dog is like, “Doo, doo, doo!” – totally oblivious of the shot or the treat.

My dad then gives the dog the shot. The dog doesn’t say a peep. It doesn’t even act like it felt it. And then the shot’s done. And both my dad and the dog’s owner go, “Oh, it’s all over! You did so well!”

As I’m watching this scene, I’m like, This conversation is from the veterinarian, for the woman - not for the dog - but it’s all being directed at the dog. This dog is going to take the shot regardless of whether you tell him yes or no. He can’t smell the treat, so he doesn’t really know that he’s getting a treat. But the treat makes everyone else feel good. It was so bizarro! I still laugh thinking about it!

I don’t think it’s bad to treat a dog as if it’s the owner’s kid. Showing compassion for the woman and for how she feels for her dog is a good thing. But I do think it can get blown out of proportion when people actually think that animals are the equivalent of humans, cause we’re definitely not the same. It’s interesting that, while my dad is treating animals as if they are humans, he’s empathizing with their owners by emulating the owners’ behavior in a way that only a human can.

Putting oneself in another’s shoes is sometimes called empathy and it becomes apparent at a remarkably young age. When I was in first grade, I sat on the back row in class. I actually think that I was ADHD before they diagnosed it. Either that or I was advanced for my class maybe, and they didn’t know what to do with advanced kids, so I was bored. I just remember knowing the answers to most of the questions, but I’d only raise my hand and answer once in a while.

I had a good friend who rode my bus. She was on the front row. For every question, she had her hand in the air, exclaiming, “Me, me, me!” And I just remember looking at her, thinking, I understand that she wants to answer questions, but why does she want to answer all the questions. I was trying to figure out how this friend thought and why she acted the way she did when I was just 6 years old.

Another aspect of empathy is our ability to use our imaginations to look at ourselves from an outside perspective. In first grade, I used to sit in class and view myself. In my mind’s eye, I was looking at the whole class, and I could see myself sitting in the back row and the reactions of my fellow classmates.

There’s a uniqueness to humanity . . .We can train dogs. We can train cats. We can train pigs. We can train all these animals to do stuff. But they do not have the ability to set aside their own view of themselves and see the world through another’s eyes. They don’t have empathy. Empathy starts with self-awareness. A dog doesn’t say, “Oh, look at what I’m doing as a dog.” We can train a dog, but the dog is reacting to us – whereas we can look at ourselves and others empathetically.

Empathy is unique to humans and helps us every day to get along with others, communicate, and solve problems. It’s good for our personal lives, and it’s good for our business lives. Celebrate your humanity by empathizing with someone today!

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