The murmur of the snarkmatrix…

August § The Common Test / 2016-02-16 21:04:46
Robin § Unforgotten / 2016-01-08 21:19:16
MsFitNZ § Towards A Theory of Secondary Literacy / 2015-11-03 21:23:21
Jon Schultz § Bless the toolmakers / 2015-05-04 18:39:56
Jon Schultz § Bless the toolmakers / 2015-05-04 16:32:50
Matt § A leaky rocketship / 2014-11-05 01:49:12
Greg Linch § A leaky rocketship / 2014-11-04 18:05:52
Robin § A leaky rocketship / 2014-11-04 05:11:02
P. Renaud § A leaky rocketship / 2014-11-04 04:13:09
Jay H § Matching cuts / 2014-10-02 02:41:13

An exercise in empathy

Mostly I want to point to Rob Greco’s wide-ranging post on empathy here. Empathy might actually be the master virtue—the one that makes any of the rest worth having—and Rob serves up a great collage of ideas and further reading including, of course, this all-time Snarkmarket favorite.

BUT I am also going to use this as an opportunity to describe a little thing that I do—a thing I have done since 7th or 8th grade, at least, and still do all the time today.

It goes like this:

Sitting in any space with other people—a classroom, a city bus, even a big wide-open park—I’ll sometimes let my mind wander and imagine the space from someone else’s vantage point. It’s as simple as that. No deep emotional imagination involved; it’s really just visual.

But the important thing is that I am included in the transformed scene. Doodling on a legal pad, hunched into a laptop, reading a book, whatever. The core of the exercise, I think, is that you see yourself as just another person in the space—an opaque bag of bones—instead of as, you know, the movie camera. The privileged POV.

Does that make any sense? It’s stuck with me as a habit, I suppose, because it’s so simple. This isn’t level 12 meditation. It’s just a little flip, a little dose of visual imagination. But I always find it entirely transporting. And it tends to put me in my place.

Anybody else ever do this?


Sartre talks about the gaze using a similar example – he says there is something ontologically deep about sitting in a park observing people, and suddenly finding yourself observed. The other’s gaze de-centres you: you suddenly appear as an object in the world, not just a pure subjectivity. Its in /Being and Nothingness/.

This reminds me of certain scenes from _Strange Days_, when the bad guy forces his victims to see themselves from his point of view. It makes them feel vulnerable.

I like that you’re choosing to do this to yourself. 🙂

Tim Carmody says…

Rob referenced it in another post on empathy a little while back, but this also reminds me of Walt Whitman’s “urban affection”: “That could be me; that could be me. What is it that separates any of us?”

Saheli says…

Dude! I do this ALL THE TIME! I thought it was just me. I particularly like to do it on BART (which I know you hate and which I’ve been riding since we were like 12, or something) and guess if my chosen projection target can see some third person, or imagine what they see that *I can’t*.

Oh that is good. Consider this remix added to my repertoire.

I like doing this change of perspective in the car, or on an airplane, or on a train (or when looking at a car or train or airplane) — I imagine what I must look like to other people, putting myself in context, another anonymous person traveling somewhere in a little box.

The snarkmatrix awaits you

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