Compassion through imitation

Imitating others has a bad rap

One metaphor for developing empathy and compassion is to walk a mile in someone else’s shoes.

This approach is likely most helpful especially when taken literally.

No, I’m not advocating locating the home of someone you struggle with for the purpose of breaking in and stealing their shoes.

That’s a bit ‘Something About Mary’ level creepy.

You don’t need their footwear at all.

If you have someone that you don’t like or that you struggle to connect with, imitate them.

This serves a couple of purposes.

First, you can have fun mocking them.

Fun being fun is a gateway to more curiosity.

Second, keep imitating them. Get really curious about how they hold their bodies and how they move.

What is their breath like?

Notice the things that you say when you’re pretending to be them.

How do they speak?

How do they walk? Where do they keep their weight?

What would it be like to do this for ten minutes?

What would it be like to do this for a day?

Imagine this is how you simply are in the world.

I was told while growing up that it was impolite to imitate people.

Perhaps that’s true. It’s impolite because it’s really really quite revealing about how they function in the world on a preverbal level.

It’s impolite because it requires a person to watch someone else and to pay really close attention to them.

It’s impolite because no matter how well we do our imitation, we’re not them, we’ll get something important wrong.

And that’s where the gold lies.

When they correct the assumptions you’ve made about them, you’ll know what you did get right.

And from that correction, you can move towards a better connection with them as well.


If you want to know someone really well, imitate them.

Showing them however? That is a whole different question.

How would you know it’s ok to show someone that you can imitate them well?

When’s the right time? In what situation? And who?