News. Empatia, via le mani dagli occhi

Empathy, hands of the eyes

How many times have we heard about empathy? We have been accustomed to defining it as the ability to put oneself in someone else’s shoes or the possibility of “walking in their shoes.” To be empathetic, in fact, psychologists tell us that it is necessary to go through some steps:

  • Knowing the basic emotions (ok so far);
  • Reflecting the inner experience of the other. In other words, through us, the other must be able to see themselves from the outside (in my opinion, this complicates matters);
  • Adopting the other’s point of view to understand why the individual behaves in a certain way and why they feel those emotions (this is quite a challenge).

How many of us, therefore, considering the three points above, can actually say that we have seen reality through the eyes of others? Perhaps too few, perhaps none.

Do we want to further complicate our analysis of empathy? Let’s try talking about animals.

Have you ever wondered how they see their surroundings? (Let’s remember the eternal dilemma: do dogs see in color?) What do they think about during the day? (Does my cat love me or just want the kibble?) If the answer is no, or yes but not really according to the criteria of the three points above… well, let’s do it now together.

Ready? Let’s take our hands off our eyes, change perspective, and put ourselves in the shoes of a Horse from our Team (Apollo) and see what happens.

Note to the reader: What follows is a short snippet of life from the perspective of the horse. Reading is not recommended for an overly serious or hypercritical audience or worse, those who are unable to use their imagination.

Location: stall
Time: dawn

What a nap! I must admit, this new straw is really comfy. And the smell! Too bad for my beautiful nose: I love sleeping lying down, and every time the hay strands hide under my back, I’m forced to search every little corner to find them again. And eat them!

Speaking of eating: hey, Vittorio, look! Breakfast is coming! Elettra, are you there too? Can you hear me? It’s time to get up!!!
Me first, me first, me first!
Hey, human! Look at me, please, please, please, me first! Hooray!! So much hay!
Good breakfast, guys!

Hey, wait a moment, what was that? Vitto, did you see it too? What was it? It came from the sky, fluttering! that way… no, that way! How scary, how scary! What do we do? It’s coming towards us, Vitto! But, but… where are you running? Wait! Elettra, at least you stay with me! But, but… don’t run after Vittorio!
Oh, nothing: I’ve been left alone. Ideas, ideas, ideas, … I need an idea!
I’ve got it!
(Hope it works!)
“Hey you, don’t come any closer!” HISSSSS Look at me, can’t you see my ears? And my nose? I’m all tense, stay away from me! Stay awaaaaay!”
Oh, darn, it’s getting closer… Doesn’t work?

Here you go: chest, neck, belly, tail, legs: at my service! Neck, up high: hold your head up high like never before! Chest, I want you out, let the power burst from you! Belly, inwards: I must look impressive, tremendously athletic! Tail, straighter, let the air make you look like a cape! And you, legs: plant your hooves firmly on the ground, let the sound of my shoes resonate like thunder!

(I knew today wasn’t my day!)

And now to you, strange shape. I’m approaching, I warn you: I’m looking up, down, scrutinizing you.

(Thank goodness he can’t read my mind: so scared, so scared, so scared)!

“You’re done for!” But… wait a moment: what… what do I see? I approach a little more. But… it seems… it’s a… it’s a bag! A bag?! It can’t be! It was a huge thing, swirling in the air, wailing like dragon cries, and… sparks from every side! Really, really! Vitto, Elettra, I swear: it was simply terrifying!

Hey, there’s no need to laugh so loudly. Stop it! Everyone makes mistakes, and anyway, I knew perfectly well it was a bag.

Here we are again, from the human point of view… What you’ve read above is a game… a game that teaches us how something that appears trivial to us, like a floating plastic bag, can be something unknown/dangerous/terrifying/unexplainable/incredible to an animal.

That’s empathy: seeing that floating plastic bag as Apollo would see it. And if we understood that one way to live more fully is to take on the perspectives of others, we would gain days of life. And if you don’t believe me, ask James Joyce.

Thinking about how a horse sees the world is a “game” that I love to play continuously: even though I have spent so much time around horses and donkeys, the curiosity that drives me to interpret them is always immense. Yet, having to rely solely on non-verbal language, understanding their mood is a daily challenge. For example, I have realized that, without the need for words, with a horse, we speak, we listen, we communicate, and we share. While we listen to him, we listen to ourselves: working with this extraordinary companion means that we also work on ourselves. The horse indeed perceives our moods perfectly: it always and only reflects what we are, without filters. Even I, today, when I am near Lara (a splendid mare of our Team), will ask: what will you show me about myself today that I still don’t know? Like a sounding board of how we are, the horse returns a sound to us that vibrates directly in proportion to our strings.


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