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.

Can you use more kindness in your life?

I think it’s normal for people to reflect about their youth as they age. Some of us remember special times and people we’ll never see again: our first loves, that summer vacation that just can’t be topped… And some of us are incredibly grateful we don’t have to relive sitting home the night of the prom or that godawful first job.

Either way, I think most of us agree life was different then. No, we didn’t have to walk 5 miles to school in the snow, uphill both ways, but we all remember things our children and/or grandchildren never heard of, like carbon paper, 78s, and party lines. As we look back, the nostalgia of kinder times fills our minds and we can’t help but compare them to the way things are right now. Kindness is what I seek when I look backward, probably because I’m experiencing less and less of it these days.

Psychologists say that to overcome the harm of a single negative comment, a person needs to receive seven positive comments. Do you know anyone who praises more than he or she criticizes, let alone seven times more?

When I grew up, my parents told me to always reach for my first choice, that good old brass ring. They also cautioned I wouldn’t always reach the brass ring, finish first, or get exactly what I wanted. And when that happened, I needed to be prepared. I had to have second, third, and fourth choices waiting in the wings.

Which is why I wanted to be a mother … a writer … a musician … a doctor … a teacher … and a ballerina. (Note: I always knew I couldn’t be a ballerina, but I still dreamed.)

The worst thing in the world isn’t failing to get what you want, Mom said, it’s quitting. Well, actually, that’s not the worst. The real worst is not getting what you want because you didn’t even try to get it or because you sat around and waited for someone else to get it for you.

When you expect other people to do things for you, you set yourself up for failure because they’re too busy searching for their own brass rings. Sure, they love and care about you, and might take a rest from their own searches to help you once in a while. But let’s face it, everyone’s more concerned with themselves than they are with other people.

Which, in some ways, is sad. Yes, we need to take care of ourselves. But we need to take care of each other, too. On our quests for whatever it is we seek, we need to walk around people instead of stepping on them as if they were staircases. We need to listen to the things we say and imagine if those very same words were directed at us. (The Golden Rule isn’t really as obsolete as carbon paper, is it?)

Tell your coworker you love the color of her sweater. Let the driver who’s been waiting patiently at the stop sign pull out in front of you. Give your dog an extra treat. Tell your child, spouse, parent, AND brother you love them. Why? Just because.

Kindness doesn’t need a reason. It is a reason in and of itself.


I’ve never minded the aging process. In fact, I actually welcome each birthday because, as my father used to say, “It beats the alternative!”

I’ll be looking 63 in the face in a couple of months and, as I’ve done ever since turning 60, find myself with a bunch of regrets. My regrets focus more on the things I’ve done and now wish I’d done differently rather than on things I haven’t done and wish I had.

You know, like the things I said and wish I’d kept your mouth shut about. The decisions I made when I was younger and that, from the perspective of chronological and [hopefully] emotional wisdom, should have been made after conducting more research and/or asking more questions. The times I hurt my children, parents, and loved ones for any number of reasons.

I was talking to my friend Ginny yesterday and shared that during the past few years, I’m plagued by regrets. She was surprised because she views me as being so positive and upbeat. Then she told me regrets were actually a good thing, and said the kindest words I’ve heard in a long time. They gave me a great deal of comfort and I paraphrase them here for you.

If we didn’t have regrets, we wouldn’t be learning lessons. Because we’re imperfect human beings, we’re always going to make mistakes. Which means that even if we could undo the mistakes we made in the past, we wouldn’t be able to prevent the other, different mistakes we would have made instead. Mistakes we’d still regret…

Feel free to share Ginny’s wisdom. We all need more kindness in our lives. And we especially need to be kinder to ourselves.