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How to Expand? Stand in Their Shoes

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On Christmas Eve, Lieutenant Kurt Zehnisch, a high school teacher in civilian life, opened communication with the enemy dug in barely 100 meters away. They agreed to meet halfway between their trenches. Two soldiers from the German side climbed out of their cover and crawled through the barbed wire—a frightening moment. The soldiers on both sides waited, barely breathing. Finally, one Englishman came out of his trench holding up both hands. “In one hand he held a cap filled with English cigarettes and tobacco.” He shook the Germans’ hands and wished them “Merry Christmas.” They wished him “Merry Christmas,” amid screams of joy from both sides.

Enemy soldiers came out of their trenches, smoked and ate together, played soccer, even cut each other’s hair. Josef Wenzl wrote home: “What I will now report to you sounds barely believable, but it is the pure truth…. Christmas 1914 will be unforgettable to me.” On May 6, 1917, Wenzl fell in battle.[iii]

Standing With “Them”

Without empathy, you won’t see all perspectives, miss out on vital intelligence, and likely make bad decisions. You must allow those who tell you about their trials and tribulations to have an effect on your heart. Rabbi Shmuel, the fourth Rebbe of Lubavitch, was once asked why he perspired so profusely whenever he counseled people who came to see him. He answered, “If I am to counsel each man well, I must experience his distress exactly as he himself experiences it; I must divest myself of my own garments and clothe myself in his. Afterwards, I put my own garments back on; and when the next person comes, I put on his garment, so for every person who comes in with a question, I have to dress and undress.”[iv] Reb Shmuel knew that to truly helpful, he had to get into people’s skin. That’s why he sweated so much and had to change his shirt each hour.

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