Terms of Endearment is still a terrific film. It won 5 Academy Awards and even though it was made almost 30 years ago and it still stands up. John Lithgow plays the part of Sam Burns a very shy Iowa bank official. He falls in love with the married Debra Winger and has a brief affair.
Parts of the film were shot in the Midwest and the director used local extras. Lithgow says that before he was ready to shot his first scene he walked around town studying how locals behaved. He observed closely how they talked, walked and what they were wearing. By chance he met a local bank official. Lithgow began speaking with the banker when he noticed the shoes the man was wearing. They were two tone brown and cream wing tips. Lithgow new instinctively that they were the shoes he needed to wear. He told the astonished official that he needed the shoes immediately and paid a handsome price to the delighted man.
Lithgow said that literally walking in this man’s shoes helped him let go of the “sophisticated actor” playing a role. Lithgow wanted to become that banker from the inside out. He wanted to see and experience what his character was thinking and feeling.
In order to accomplish that level of empathy Lithgow had to let go of his own ways of behaving and walk a mile in another mans shoes. This letting go of one perspective and adopting another point of view gave Lithgow the freedom and power to express himself with authenticity.
One need not be an actor to take advantage of this strategy. Changing perspectives helps people gain knowledge. The ability to see the world through an others eyes is a uniquely human skill and like any skill it needs to be practiced as much as possible.
So the next time you are in a quandary about someone else, take a John Lithgow moment. Observe the person closely while suspending your own judgment. Be daring enough to walk in the other guys shoes.