There is an old joke that goes: “Before you judge a person, walk a mile in their shoes. After that who cares? They’re a mile away and you’ve got their shoes.” Badummtshhh!
It is, of course, a riff on the idiom that is typically stated as “Before you judge a person, walk a mile in their shoes” the idea being that you shouldn’t judge people until you better understand their life experiences, the challenges they carry every day, and how they view the world. It’s about developing empathy and perspective or, to put it another way, it’s about learning to manage your own emotions.
To wit, the shoes in question don’t really matter (history suggests the idiom originates with native Americans so likely they’d be wearing moccasins or some such), so perhaps these days it’s probably fair to say that with the astonishing designs, prices, and sheer volume of the range of shoes available to those who can afford them, it might be a more apt phrase than ever.
The other day, as I left work, I saw a long queue of people waiting outside a store. It’s not a store I’ve ever stepped foot in, but I’m pretty sure it’s a clothes stor… sorry, “fashion boutique”. It’s 4pm and there is a security guard in attendance at the front door, with a long queue already standing in orderly… er.. fashion.. behind a red velvet rope cordon.
It’s not something you see ever day so with my curiosity piqued I altered my route to wander past.
The queue is largely made up of young faces, teenagers and twenty-somethings, their faces lit by the screens they bow to view. As I get closer I peer inside the shop and can see that the red velvet ropes extend into the store, where there are more people waiting in a queue that snakes round one side of the store and up to the rear where there is a tall clear glass display cabinet, spot light in dazzling white, that contains two pairs of trainers set at jaunty angles as they rotate slowly on a pedestal. Each pair look identical in design and only differ in colour; one is a shade of olive, the other a light salmon pink. There are no other discernible factors or uniqueness and, from a distance, they look like they could be any other pair of trainers, render into these colours. In the queue of people waiting inside, most have their phones raised as they capture their latest Instagram, or Snapchat, or TikTok, or [insert latest fad].
I’ll admit that, as I walked past, I made judgements about those people. I judged them based on their age, I judged them based on their clothes, and yes I judged them because they were queuing to buy a pair of trainers at what I could only presume was an exorbitant price or, as I’m sure the designer would suggest, at a ‘premium’.
Part of me feels ashamed at that. I don’t know any of them, I don’t know if this is a purchase for them, if it’s the only thing they are treating themselves to this year, I don’t know if they don’t have any other hobbies and this is part of their social life. The other part of me wonders what on earth the world has come to when people will queue up to buy a pair of, to my eye, fairly non-descript trainers at what I’m presuming is an inflated price and which, again I’m presuming, have been endorsed by a celebrity whom I’ve never heard of.
Wow, listen to me, the out of touch and angry old man, raging against a world he doesn’t understand.
Sometimes it’s hard to gain perspective, or at least hold it, when you are seeing things that fundamentally just don’t seem right and definitely don’t feel relatable to your own world view. Admittedly this is a terrible example to use but the point stands, I only see the world from my own perspective, through my own experiences. I am applying my own morals to others and that isn’t right or fair.
Learning to put all that aside requires a lot of effort but it is possible. Emotional labour, as Hannah Gadsby recently said, is something that many millions of people do, multiple times, every single day. Those people are mostly women, so I think it’s about time that men took a turn.
It can be easy to start too, honestly, you just need to fight a basic urge. The next time you want to voice an opinion, ask yourself this, did the person I’m talking to ask for my opinion in the first place?
And it’s from there you realise that un-requested opinions tend to come from one place, with one point of view in mind, one perspective. Moving that view can be hard but it is possible.
Then, when you have walked a mile in another persons shoes, you’ll understand why their feet hurt, how sore their blisters are, and realise that your legs are aching.
‘How on earth did they manage to walk in these things?’ you’ll wonder.
And then you’ll realise.
These aren’t your shoes, and whilst you now have some aches and pains you’ve never had before, you’ll maybe start to appreciate that the way other people walk, and the shoes they were, aren’t wrong, or bad, just different.