One Inch Tall by Shel Silverstein
If you were only one inch tall, you’d ride a worm to school.
The teardrop of a crying ant would be your swimming pool.
A crumb of cake would be a feast
And last you seven days at least,
A flea would be a frightening beast
If you were one inch tall.
If you were only one inch tall, you’d walk beneath the door,
And it would take about a month to get down to the store.
A bit of fluff would be your bed,
You’d swing upon a spider’s thread,
And wear a thimble on your head
If you were one inch tall.
You’d surf across the kitchen sink upon a stick of gum.
You couldn’t hug your mama, you’d just have to hug her thumb.
You’d run from people’s feet in fright,
To move a pen would take all night,
(This poem took fourteen years to write–
‘Cause I’m just one inch tall).
No doubt you’ve put yourself in another’s shoes on occasion, perhaps as a means of helping them or in an effort to understand them. You’ve reached outside of yourself to intellectually understand another’s thoughts, feelings or attitudes, taking an impression as an old locksmith would when duplicating a key in wax.
Empathy, the capacity to intellectually identify with or vicariously experience another’s situation, is vitally important to effective leadership. Feeling the sense of restriction in the experience of a fellow, for instance, without being bound oneself(!), can often help you to provide suggestions as to how to overcome the limitation. Bosses, parents, civic leaders and so on are wise to have empathy as an arrow in their quiver.
Empathy also allows for a tremendous transference of feeling. As sentient beings, feeling is very important to us. Whether left or right brain dominant, feelings are always involved in some fashion with reason and action. Some say that sales is, in its essence, the transference of feeling. Empathy, then, can be a powerful tool in the sales process if used rightly.
Even if you’ve never felt what the person is going through personally, empathy allows you to get taste of it – perhaps more sorbet than ice cream – but a taste of it nonetheless. I’ve noticed that a trait common to the better nurses and doctors is a well-developed capacity for empathy. They don’t roll around in the impression, nor do they identify with what is perceived, but they do use it to advantage and likely speed the healing process as a result.
If someone you know feels one inch tall, don’t commiserate. Sympathy – harmonizing with the woes of others around you like a tuning fork in a concert hall – never helps. Take an impression and be a leader. Leaders lead. Show them the way out. If they come with you, well and good. If they don’t, well, it’s their choice, isn’t it?
Extend empathy to others but beware, you run the risk of others extending their empathy to you. A delightful quid pro quo!
Thank you, Shel Silverstein, for a rich and inspiring legacy of wonderful poems.