Putting in someone else’s shoes: new worlds and other perspectives

7.jpgWhy should a professor decide to become an undergraduate once again? This is what Mike Cross, a chemistry teacher at Northern Essex Community College, in Massachusetts, did.

35-years-old, married with three kids, professor Cross decided to enroll in an associate degree in liberal arts to get a better feel for how his students juggle classwork, kids, and jobs. What happened next was a constant discover that he told about in an interview to the Chronicle of Higher Education.

Going under cover, Cross lived a full year as a “real” student until graduation, finding out things he could have never known sitting on the other side of the desk. First, Cross had to face the difficulties of pursuing a degree while having a full-time job and a family. Therefore, if his kids needed help with homework, he had to postpone his to help them. This made him understand that often his students could not be on time with deadlines not because they are lazy, but because they might have important personal needs and they have to prioritise. In other cases, Cross had to spend time in classes sitting in uncomfortable chairs, which eventually diverted his attention from the lecture.

This experience, which is of course extreme, tells us about a common problem not just among professors, but even among entrepreneurs and in other more general situations. The main problem concerns the ability to put into the shoes of those who are before us for several reasons, whether students or clients.

How able of doing this are we? How can we really stay in someone else’s shoes and become so empathetic that we understand the others’ issues and work to get them better off?

The capacity of being so empathetic is only partially innate. The rest is shaped by circumstances and by an environment that facilitates such a synergy. In LUISS we have created evolving spaces that serve precisely that purpose.

But this is still not enough. A good environment is only a piece of the cake. The rest is made of a change in attitude and in mentality; of the capacity to get out of our garden and explore some new ones. We need to leave, at least temporarily, our role to take up another, understanding what others think and try to make their perspective ours.

It is hard work, but in the long-run this one of the few chances we have to survive to the overwhelming change already going.

We need to learn how to stare at the skyline and understand that beyond there is the other half of the world. This vision should guide our youth and call them to create “their” 4.0, as a personal and shared heritage. This vision is already the future.

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