Can You Walk a Mile in Another Person’s Shoes?

Until four years ago, I never watched the news on a regular basis. I never felt the need to follow politics closely or share my political beliefs. My reasons are a story for another day.

Maybe it’s because I’m a writer, maybe it’s because I’m growing older, or maybe it’s because of something buried deeply in my unconscious, but I’ve found myself fascinated by all the drama playing out on the world stage during the past four years.

People are ridiculously simple and complex … all at at the same time. They’re transparent and deceitful, generous and greedy, considerate and selfish. They’re also damned scary.

Normally, I’m more of a participant than an observer. But during the COVID-19 lockdown, I’ve had no choice but to limit my activities to watching and listening to other people rather than dancing around on my own. Here’s what I’ve come up with during the past three months:

The world needs more compassion and empathy. For those of you without a dictionary:

  • Compassion is being concerned about how other people suffer and experience difficult times.
  • Empathy is being able to put yourself in someone else’s shoes.

I’ll use myself as an example because, like most people, I’m my favorite person and my thoughts and feelings focus primarily on myself. I am:

  • A woman
    • Short
    • The firstborn of 4 siblings
    • Brown-haired
    • A mother

Because of inherent traits I have no control over, I do not know what it feels like to be male, 6’ 7” tall, an only child, blonde, or childless. I will never know what it feels like to have a penis instead of a vagina, be able to reach the boxes on the top shelf in the kitchen without a stool, have all my parents’ attention every day, be the butt of stupid blonde jokes, or to not be blessed with the joys and pains of childbirth.

I will never know what these things feel like. I am not responsible for this deficiency in knowledge. It is a fact of nature. My traits are immutable. I have no control over them. However, I can be concerned for men and how they suffer. I can imagine what it must feel like to be a 6-foot-tall 13-year-old girl who towers over her classmates.

You can draw up a similar list of things that describe you, traits and characteristics you were born with or experiences that can never be reversed.

My list will be different from yours. But my list is no more or less important than yours is. My traits and feelings will be different from yours. And my traits and feelings are no more or less important than yours are, either. They’re just different.

This world contains billions of people, each of whom is different from everyone else. Do those differences prevent us from sharing traits and feelings? No! Many other people in the world are also short women who are mothers, women who have younger siblings and have brown hair. Regardless of whether you or anyone else shares these traits with me, every single one of us has been the victim of prejudice, bias, scorn, and mistreatment.

Nasty stuff happens. To everyone.

I believe we need to focus on the similarities rather than the differences. And when we can’t focus on a difference–when it’s too large, too scary, or too nasty to be surmounted–we need to practice compassion and empathy.

This doesn’t mean we have to accept certain behavior, or forgive it, or forego the pursuit of justice. It means we need to be concerned for other people. No, we don’t have to embrace them and take them into our homes. But it does mean we should listen to them and respect their basic, human rights.

None of us wants to be controlled. Not by our government or other people. None of us should be controlled–by anyone.

Living by rules society has agreed to adopt is not being controlled. Being forced to live by rules a small segment of society insists on adopting is being controlled.

Why do some of us believe we have the right to control others, even when the majority of society does not agree with us? Because we don’t have compassion for others. We’re so focused on our own perspectives and pain we’re unable to step into the shoes of other people and imagine what it must be like to be them.

I think it’s time for us to start imagining more.

Feel free to share with friends.

Feel free to share your thoughts...

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.