Taking different Perspectives: An Exercise in Empathy

The purpose of this project in my CEP 817 course (Learning Technology through Design) is to gain a better understanding of empathy by taking a different perspective on a story that I heard. The story that I’ll outline below  was overheard at a party the other day. This story was told to me by “the Boss” and the second story is “the Worker’s” perspective of the same event.

The Boss’s Perspective 

Several months ago the Worker told the boss that she would be taking classes in the winter a couple days a week. The Boss said that that was no problem but requested a class schedule to put in her file as that was the normal procedure in situations like this. The Worker seemed to have no problem with this said she would get it to her when it was available. Then the winter came and after several weeks of the Worker taking a couple days off a week for classes the Boss, once again, requested the class schedule. The Worker dodged this request on several occasions, saying that she didn’t understand the need for the schedule and that she didn’t want the other workers to know her personal business. This confused the Boss because she wouldn’t be sharing it with any of the other workers (and they already knew she was taking those days off). This discussion escalated to a full blown argument that resulted in the firing of the Worker as she continued to refuse to give the schedule to the Boss.

The Worker’s Perspective

She decided several months ago that since things were financially difficult she may need to go back to school. She knew this would mean adjusting her work schedule and she talked to the Boss about it. Although this conversation seemed to go well, the thought of going back to school was intimidating. The last few times hadn’t gone well, it was an increased cost, and she would have to sacrifice hours of working on top of paying for school. As it came close to time to pay for tuition and the money wasn’t there to cover it she cancelled her classes (having not let the Boss know and continuing to take the days off each week). The thought of possibly failing in college again also played a role in her decision to cancel her classes. As part of going to school she was able to get more assistance in the form of food stamps and other aid and if she gained the hours back she’d get less assistance. Although she’d obviously make more money with the added hours, she’d been considering opening a business on the side that would take time to set up and get started. Time that she wouldn’t have if she worked full time. These factors all contributed to her decision to not tell the Boss, or anyone, about the class situation. The combination of the shame from feeling like a failure and the motivation of starting her own business while maintaining the assistance meant she would continue on with not telling anyone. This all came to a head one day and although part of her thought that telling the Boss the truth might be best, she feared for what that might do to her reputation. That refusal resulted in her being let go from her place of employment.

Reflection

The process of trying to fill in the blanks for the second perspective was a great exercise in empathy. I mean that honestly and not in the “my professor would love to hear that” kind of way. As I wrote from event to event I could feel my brain exploring all the different possibilities at each crossroad. It helps you get inside the head of another person. I think even the process of physically typing it up was important. While I was thinking about the second person’s perspective I had ideas that I wanted to discuss, but the writing process helped me fill in the details as well as explore other possibilities I hadn’t considered.

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