Walk a mile in someone’s shoes.

We’ve all heard the old adage, “Don’t judge someone until you’ve walked a mile in his shoes.” It’s sound advice, so let’s talk about how to take that walk.  (I’ll not comment on Billy Connolly’s humorous take on this phrase: “Before you judge a man, walk a mile in his shoes. After that who cares? He’s a mile away and you’ve got his shoes!”)

It’s very difficult to imagine what it’s like to experience life through another person’s viewpoint. What is it like…

      • To be a person of color in a predominately white society?
      • To have a handicap that makes mobility difficult?
      • To have been raised in foster homes?
      • To be the child of a famous person?
      • To be a single mother with three small children?

The English novelist Zadie Smith wrote that when she was a girl, she was constantly imagining what it would be like to grow up in the homes of her friends. “I rarely entered a friend’s home without wondering what it might be like to never leave. That is, what it would be like to be Polish or Ghanaian or Irish or Bengali, to be richer or poorer, to say these prayers or hold those politics. Above all, I wondered what it would be like to believe the sorts of things I didn’t believe.”

While it may be difficult to view life from someone else’s perspective, it’s not impossible, and we must try. It’s the key prerequisite for developing empathy and an essential element of intimate relationships.

For a moment, think of someone you know whose life is quite different from yours. I’m thinking of the man who has done our yard work for the past 25 years. I’ve watched him raise his three sons who have helped their father do hard work. Bardo and his family are faithful, good workers who work many hours a day mowing and trimming lawns.

Now close your eyes and think about what the person’s life might be like—his fears, joys, insecurities, aspirations, dreams. Has Bardo saved for retirement? Does he have a hobby that offers a break from mundane, tedious work? How is he paying for his sons’ college education? Does he stay in touch with family in Mexico? What’s more difficult for him: working in the severe heat of summer or the cold of winter? Who fixes his truck when it breaks down?

As a result of spending a few minutes thinking about what it’s like to be Bardo, I’m more empathetic toward him and curious to know more about his story. In the coming weeks, I’m going to take the time to engage more with him.

4 Replies to “Walk a mile in someone’s shoes.”

  1. This was excellent Don! Our world needs a heavy dose of “otherness” these days. Blessings on you and Mary!

    1. Millard, it’s so good to hear from you. I have fond memories of our times together. You’re right, being “other oriented” is central to the Christian message. Take care, Don.

    1. Anne, thanks for taking the time to respond. I have never thought of that: novelist always write from “walking in the shoes of someone else.” I admire you for being so prolific in your writing career.

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