Drive Like Your Kids Live Here

Sometimes a simple road sign is a great guide for life.

Posted Aug 16, 2019

E. Segal
Source: E. Segal

The other day I was walking my dog on a new route and saw this sign. To me it read like a how-to-do empathy sign. 

Those six words call on us to follow key aspects of empathy: Imagine that you are in another’s situation, walk in their shoes, take in the context, and apply your understanding of the context to what it would be like to be the other person. Empathy asks us to consider another person’s life circumstances in order to share feelings and understand that other person. Whoever created this sign figured that tapping into people’s empathy would get their attention so that they drive more carefully. And it works—the sign makes us think about our own children or those children who we know and care about. 

What if we had other signs to help us remember to be empathic? “Grow food like you are serving it to your family.” Would we want pesticides and all sorts of chemical modifications risking the chance that our food would lack nutrition and maybe even be dangerous to eat? No, not if that food is going to our kids. If we treat all kids like our own, we would fight for rules and regulations that keep our food safe and nutritious.

What about a sign instructing us to “Build communities that are safe enough for you to live in.”  What would that look like? How would we want a community to develop so that we and our loved ones could live safely?

What if politicians lived by the rule “Govern like it touches your children’s lives.” What would public policies look like? For example, many have argued that if all politicians’ children were in the military, they would be much more reluctant to send soldiers to war. 

However, the farther removed we are from the consequences of our actions, and from being in the shoes of those who are affected by those actions, the more likely it will be that we lack insight and empathy into their situations. 

Most of us know what we want, how we want to be treated, and what it would take to keep us safe and healthy. But why don’t we see those things when we look at other people’s lives? Because we struggle with empathy. Empathy can be hard – it takes energy, insight, and a strong understanding of one’s own feelings to be able to step outside ourselves and consider the feelings of others. Empathy can be hijacked by fear. It also takes learning and practice to be empathic. We are born with tools for empathy, but we need to learn how to use them. 

Although difficult, empathy can be developed by putting yourself in the place of others, imagining how you would feel, and how you would want to be treated.  

When we walk in the shoes of others and at the same imagine how we would want to be treated if we were that other person, we can build empathy. We can drive like our kids live here.