Each of our lives are unfolding adventures day in and day out. The opportunities and challenges before us vary as much or more than our DNA sequences. How we will each react to a circumstance, an opportunity, a challenge or a disappointment has been learned and developed over all the days of our lives. To understand someone else’s place in their world it helps to take a walk in their shoes. Too often we judge or decide things about people before we have even taken a moment to wonder why they are behaving or reacting the way we have observed. We usually tend to think about ourselves and compare their behavior to our own, which arrogantly assumes their life experiences have been just like ours. No two lives are ever the same. No two people will ever react or think the exact same way, so to assume we can understand people purely by observing their behaviors is like saying we can understand the sun by basking it the sunshine.
I ate lunch this week with a gentleman from India. He had moved back home after living in the United States for over twenty years. His parents were aging and someone needed to be there to take care of them. His teenagers are having a hard time adjusting to their new surroundings. After talking with him I realized I had no idea how their two kids must feel. Leaving the only home they have ever known to move to a place where they can’t even speak the language, it must seem like a science fiction novel or a cruel experiment of puberty. Their father had empathy because he too moved to the United States as a teen, so he was able to walk a bit in their shoes. And yet he realized that moving to the US as a teen was very different than moving to rural part of India as a teen. We talked about walking a mile in their shoes and how taking a moment to think about what they must be experiencing is how he and his wife are making it work.
Whether the shoes are sophisticated or simple, leather or cotton, fancy or athletic, we all wear shoes and can learn a great deal about people by walking in their shoes. We have to get over our preconceived ideas about who they are and what they do and put ourselves in their shoes to understand what is really at their core. Getting along with people means not only giving of ourselves it means sharing in their experiences and wanting to understand. It means being willing to be uncomfortable in their shoes to gain perspective about what is important to them.
Walk in someone’s shoes today and give them the gift of understanding and compassion, and gain for yourself the gift of insight and gratitude.