Column: I Actually Did Walk a Mile in Someone Else’s Shoes
You have more than likely stumbled upon this idiom at one point:
Before you judge a man, walk a mile in his shoes.
Unlike most of you, though, I actually did this. In the fourth grade, I would commonly walk back to my house from a weekly after-school activity with a couple of friends. Our group had decided that the walk was about a mile in length, even though we really weren’t sure, and on one occasion, I traded shoes with one of my friends—mostly because I liked that his shoes were blue.
To the bewilderment of my 10-year-old self, though, I did not have any newfound knowledge when I took them off and handed them back to my friend. There was no revelation, no big life lesson I could say that I learned, other than that his shoes were too small for me.
The problem was two-fold: one, I did not get the idiom, and two, my fourth-grade self had not yet come to terms with his standing within the American societal hierarchy.
When I was young, I grew up in a two-story house in a safe neighborhood with loving parents. In fourth grade, never did I ponder what life was like for other kids — kids who grew up in broken homes, whose inner-city lives desensitized them to violence, who had a chip on their shoulder before they entered elementary school.
For most of my childhood, I did not to try to empathize with other people who were different from myself. I never tried to “put myself in the shoes” of someone who has a disability or someone who is homeless; I never received discrimination because of the color of my skin or because of my ethnicity, and I didn’t try to understand what that would be like.
Even though I had literally walked a mile in someone else’s shoes, I was still content with my own sneakers.
And that’s a problem — not only for my adolescent self, but for a lot of people who unconsciously become so entrenched in their own problems that they never consider the problems of others.
Empathy is nothing but powerful. It’s really unfathomable to comprehend how much progress our society could make in healing racial tensions and creating gender equality if everyone made an effort to understand the everyday struggles of those around them.
Imagine if more of the men and women in Congress would try to understand the struggles and real-life problems of Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals recipients instead of using them as a political bargaining tool, and try to think about how different the current American landscape would look if more people would create constructive dialogue with the people they disagree with — even on controversial and pressing issues like the Black Lives Matter movement or immigration.
Generalization is a problem, too. Many will write off the poor as lazy, without knowing many impoverished parents are working two minimum wage jobs to put food on the table for their kids. In our increasingly polarized society, people throw insults and call others names if they do not look like them or have the same background, as if that will somehow build bridges and solve problems.
Such hateful language that is nonchalantly thrown back-and-forth between people of all beliefs and backgrounds is only separating our society further and motivating people to tie their own shoes on tighter, to keep with the idiom. People have disregarded the principles of respect and compassion that they learn in grade school to favor hate and selfishness.
In Paul’s letter to the people of Corinth, he writes to the body—which he said is made up of “Jews or Greeks, slaves, or free,”—to address this very problem. He writes to deliver a message of compassion and empathy which is seemingly just as foreign to people in modern-day America as it was to the Corinthian church in the first century.
“But God has so composed the body, giving greater honor to the part that lacked it, that there may be no division in the body, but that the members may have the same care for one another,” he wrote. “If one member suffers, all suffer together; if one member is honored, all rejoice together.”
And it is disheartening to think that while I am writing this, that I cannot remember a recent time where we, the body, rejoiced together.
Young is the editor-in-chief.