I had a great conversation with my friend Amy over lunch today about simulations that medical students do of being, say, (and each person gets a different person to play) a person with one leg, substance abuse problems, and trying to get housing, and having to go to stations around the room to talk to simulated social service offices, the bank, landlords. Does this help these students be more empathetic when they are doctors? Can such a brief distant semi glimpse into what it miiiight be like for someone make a difference? How so? Well a lot of people seem to think that the similar sort of glimpse offered by the game In her shoes originally designed by my friend Karen Rosenberg and distributed in the US by the Washington State Coalition Against Domestic Violence makes a difference. It's been played by service providers, cops, judges, and all sorts of folks for years. Another friend, Lupita Patterson, worked on making a version reflecting the realities of Latino survivors in the US, and then PATH, the Program for Appropriate Technology in Health, localized versions for several other countries (localizing means more than just translating, but making the scenarios, stories, etc relevant to the context). What I think might be even more important is that the Coalition has followed it up with an advocates guide called In our shoes, next steps. As they put it "This workbook helps communities take the next steps beyond understanding a survivor's experiences (In Her Shoes) to embracing our collective responsibility for ending domestic violence and poverty (In Our Shoes)." Because too often I worry that simulations leave people thinking they've really been in someone else's shoes, when of course you have only had the vaguest sense of it - and don't help us think about where then we want to walk in our own shoes, and how to walk alongside people in other shoes. I also worry that, as my friend Sarah puts it, if I walk in their shoes, is there still room in their shoes for them? Or to use academic jargon, when does empathy become appropriative? But really, in a workshop simulation, will anyone think they are *really* in anyone else's shoes? Or will it be clear it's just a paper doll cutout of someone else's shoes?
For another way more high tech simulation, check this video out: (I think it does good work, but it doesn't feel much to me like what I had going on emotionally when I walked down a path where folks had been hurt by mines a few days before, or when I chose to pee in a field that might have had mines rather than by the truck next to 30 people)