Walking in Another’s Shoes
Can we walk in another’s shoes? I heard a popular comedian say that thinking we can is akin to understanding homelessness by relating it to your recent camping experience. You’re just fooling yourself. Others contend admitting you don’t know what someone else is going through shows deeper compassion than saying you do. One of my fellow writers at BCB, while discussing a somewhat-related topic, talked about how people think they know what something feels like when they don’t at all. She cited the example that being stabbed by a knife feels most like being electrocuted. How could you possibly know that without experiencing it? The point is you don’t. And, pretending you do extends the rift of misunderstanding, rather than bridging it.
I’m not suggesting we don’t try to put ourselves in another’s shoes. In fact, it can be an excellent practice. Even if we never can fully enter their perspective, the attempt pulls us away from our narrow vision, allowing us a broader one. Yet, when another lives something intense and specified–you can imagine many examples–we might not be able to conjure up a genuine feeling that matches theirs. Stabbing, those who have not been stabbed assume, feels like being sliced or punctured. Electrocuted? Doesn’t seem to make much sense, so we think from our un-informed experience.
There are times someone may make a choice we just don’t think we’d make under any circumstances. We might be tempted to judge them for their alignment with things we don’t believe in. We may strongly believe they are wrong and we are right.
But, do we really know why they make the choices they do? Is it truly possible to travel in their shoes?
If we want to live as compassionate beings we have to remember, they are making their life’s journey according to what they’ve lived and who they currently are. Not what we’ve lived and who we are.