Learning from someone else’s pain

To make mistakes is to learn. The consequences of our mistakes burns our learning directly into the subconscious. This process is automatic, and often unconscious, and is true especially of pain. Our body automatically learns to never move in a manner that caused us injury. This is why recovering from an injury can be so hard for sports persons.

But does every athlete have to land awkwardly in all possible ways, to perfect her technique? Does every banker need to live through a financial crisis to understand market risks? It would be remarkably inconvenient to commit every mistake to learn something comprehensively. What about the mistakes that other people make? Would it not be more efficient to learn from them? What enables or limits us from doing so?

Our empathy makes this learning available to us. By paying enough attention, we put ourselves in other people’s shoes and feel what they felt. While watching a video of a sports star getting injured, or while listening to somebody talk about their own failures, the measure of how empathetic we are determines how much learning we can imbibe.

Cultivating enough empathy to learn from other people’s experience as if it were our own is a powerful ability and a lifelong endeavour.

Credits: Josh Waitzkin’s conversation with Tim Ferriss for inspiring this post

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