Empathy: Can you walk in another person’s shoes?

Have you ever had a hard time with a situation and had someone ask you what is wrong? Then after you tell them what is wrong, they tell you the “silver lining” for your cloud. A “silver lining” is a statement such as, “I know you fell down the stairs and broke your leg. At least you did not crack a rib too.” How does it make you feel when someone makes light of a bad situation for you? I imagine the tidbit of information about how your sad situation was not as bad you think does not make you feel better. I find it frustrating.

Sharing an unsolicited “silver lining” minimizes another person’s hardship. Silver linings can make a person feel worse and alone. If an individual is pouring out their soul, more than likely, they want someone who can connect with them and understand how they feel.

I work with many people. I could never have imagined some of the things that people tell me. I am often left speechless and wondering what to say. My desire to connect was the reason why I attended a professional development about the difference between empathy and sympathy. I wanted to know how to communicate my compassion for people. I feel it, but I do not always express it well. And sometimes, sympathy is not enough.

Are you wondering what the difference is between empathy and sympathy? The video I included by Brené Brown explains the difference. I thought it was simultaneously hilarious and sad. As you watch the video, you will see that one is empathetic when one steps inside of what a person is experiencing.

One may not have had the same experience. Still, one can apply life’s experiences and think about how they might have felt if the same thing happened to them. It is like vicariously going through the same situation. On the contrary, someone with sympathy understands the situation, but they don’t “step inside” of what a person is feeling. A person that has sympathy may be sorry that someone is having trouble, but they are likely to offer a “silver lining” in conversation.

For empathy, helping does not necessarily mean that you will try to fix another person’s problem. Alternatively, you can listen when a person needs to be heard. There will be times when we should reserve the impulse to judge or give advice until a person asks for help. I learned that we do not have to feel compelled to have an answer to someone’s problem. If we do not know what to say, we should say it.

“I do not know what to say about your problem. I have never had that happen to me. However, I am glad that you told me, and I am here to listen. How did your situation make you feel?”

As school librarians, we interact with many stakeholders. The ability to express empathy is an essential skill for this reason. Empathy helps us to build relationships by showing that we care. Our students need to be educated in nurturing atmospheres. When we show empathy, we set an example for our students. We learn more about our environments by building healthy relationships based on trust. As such, empathy enhances collaborative relationships.

I have only provided a little information about empathy. If you would like to learn more, consider reading the work of Prudy Gourguechon. Gourguechon notes that empathy is a leadership skill. In her Forbes article, she writes about how the inability to “put yourself in another person’s shoes” can have devastating repercussions during decision-making processes. Think about this. How many wrong decisions have you witnessed leaders make because they chose to ignore the feelings of their constituents? How did it work out for them? Considering everything that is happening in the world today, empathy is something we need more of.


Gourguechon, Prudy. 2017. “Empathy Is an Essential Leadership Skill–And There’s Nothing Soft about It.” Forbes (Dec. 26). https://www.forbes.com/sites/prudygourguechon/2017/12/26/empathy-is-an-essential-leadership-skill-and-theres-nothing-soft-about-it/#348ce4402b9d.

July 2019 Professional Development

Organization Date & Time Professional Development Title
edWeb.net July 8, 2019 – 5:00 pm – 6:00 pm EST Smart Network Design for Transformation and Innovation: Reaching in and Beyond the Classroom
July 15, 2019 – 1:00 pm – 2:00 pm EST Encouraging Student Voice and Choice in the Classroom
July 16, 2019 – 3:00 pm – 4:00 pm EST Fostering Social-Emotional Learning Through Text-Based Discussions
July 18, 2019 – 2:00 pm – 3:00 pm EST How to Fill the World with Leaders: Creating School Cultures Where Student Leadership Thrives
July 18, 2019 – 3:00 pm – 4:00 pm EST Bridging the Gap: From District Aspirations to Student Impact
Info2Go! July 15, 2019 – 12:30 pm – 1:30 pm MST Nutrition Labels for News: A Discussion with NewsGuard About News Literacy and Access to Information
Simple K12 July 2, 2019 – 12:00 pm – 12:30 pm EST 15 Free Mobile Apps to Support Struggling Readers
July 2, 2019 – 2:00 pm – 2:30 pm EST Don’t Be a One and Done: Creative Ways of Reaching All Students with Multiple Apps
July 13, 2019 – 10:00 am – 10:30 am EST Virtual Explorations and Field Trips with Google Tools
July 13, 2019 – 11:00 am – 11:30 am EST Did You Know Google Could Do That?
July 13, 2019 – 12:00 pm – 12:30 pm EST Easy Formative Assessment with Google Forms
July 13, 2019 – 1:00 pm – 1:30 pm EST Organize, Collaborate, and Create with Google Keep
July 17, 2019 – 10:00 am – 10:30 am EST Next Generation Science Standards: An Overview
July 18, 2019 – 12:00 pm – 12:30 pm EST Getting Your School Started with Blogging


July 20, 2019 – 10:00 am – 10:30 am EST Using Google Apps to Create Interactive Student or Class Projects
July 20, 2019 – 11:00 am – 11:30 am EST Engaging Students with Edu-Gaming!


July 20, 2019 – 12:00 pm – 12:30 pm EST Mobile Makerspaces: Tinkering with STEAM


July 20, 2019 – 1:00 pm – 1:30 pm EST Simplify Data Collection and Documentation with Google Forms
July 20, 2019 – 2:00 pm – 2:30 pm EST Social and Emotional Learning: Engineering Empathy in the Early Childhood Classroom
July 20, 2019 – 3:00 pm – 3:30 pm EST STEAM It Up for Struggling Students!


TeachersFirst July 10, 2019 – 5:00 pm – 6:30 pm CST Hidden Treasures: Engaging and Free Resources from TeachersFirst
July 11, 2019 – 11:00 am – 12:00 pm CST Google MANIA – Google Keep in the Classroom
July 11, 2019 – 12:00 am – 1:00 pm CST Google MANIA – 10 More Chrome Extensions I Can’t Live Without
July 11, 2019 – 1:00 am – 2:00 pm CST Google MANIA – Google Tour Builder Basics
July 11, 2019 – 3:00 am – 4:00 pm CST Google MANIA – Google Maps: Make Learning a Journey with Reading Treks
July 11, 2019 – 4:00 am – 5:00 pm CST Google MANIA – Student Activities for Google Slides
July 16, 2019 – 5:00 am – 6:00 pm CST Coding in the Elementary Classroom
July 23, 2019 – 5:00 am – 6:30 pm CST 3 Cool Tools for Classroom Management
July 24, 2019 – 5:00 am – 6:30 pm CST Power Packed Primary Sources for the Classroom
VolunteerMatch.org July 11, 2019 – 2:00 pm – 3:00 pm EST The New Volunteer Manager’s Toolkit
July 18, 2019 – 2:00 pm – 3:00 pm EST Writing Accurate and Useful Volunteer Position Descriptions
July 30, 2019 – 2:00 pm – 3:00 pm EST Where Do I Go from Here? Engage Volunteers in New Ways




Author: Daniella Smith

Daniella Smith, PhD. is a former school and public librarian. She is currently the Hazel Harvey Peace Professor in Children’s Library Services at the University of North Texas.

Categories: Advocacy/Leadership, Blog Topics, Community/Teacher Collaboration, Professional Development

Tags: , , ,

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.