There is a long tradition of developing empathy through direct experience of other people’s lives. Much of it has been aimed at understanding the lives of those living in poverty. In the late 1920s George Orwell dressed up as a tramp and wandered the streets of East London with vagabonds and beggars, a period of his life described in his book Down and Out in Paris and London. More recently, the British journalist Polly Toynbee wrote about her time trying out a variety of minimum wage jobs (Hard Work: Life in Low-Pay Britain), a path also followed by the American social commentator Barbara Ehrenreich (Nickle and Dimed: On (Not) Getting By in America).
These examples are well known. So I would like to tell you about one of the most extraordinary forgotten instances of experiential empathetic adventuring. It happened exactly forty years ago.