To me, the word that describes all the feelings that come to mind is probably humility. Because when I think about it, I like my own shoes. Sure they might be a little dirty and have some scuff marks on the heels, but they just fit so nice with the curves of my feet, worn in in all the right places. I know them, just like my life, and I am comfortable and safe with what I know in my own little world. Trying on someone else’s shoes could be dirty, messy, sweaty. It could make me uncomfortable. It could make my life less easy, even challenging.
To step into someone else’s shoes means I need to step out of the ones I’m already in, out of my comfort zone. It means admitting how much I don’t know, and that there is more to life than the one I am living. It’s realizing this life is not meant to be lived for me; it is about so much more than me and how I fit into it.
As I leave my shoes behind, it makes me a bit unsure. I feel awkward, not knowing what to do. But when I step into the shoes of someone else, I look up and see thankfulness. Thankfulness that someone cares enough to want to get to know them. To understand their life and where they are coming from.
I have traveled to and spent time in a handful of countries all over the world, and instead of finding how different we all are I actually think our hearts are very much the same in this way. I’ve realized there are ties that unite us all. I think that people everywhere just want to know that someone sees them where they are. To know that someone cares. That they aren’t alone or forgotten. That someone wants them and for someone to tell them there is hope.
So back to the question. What does walking in someone else’s shoes look like?
Maybe just to stop living life walking past people as if they don’t exist, hurrying to get on to the next thing we must check off our “to do” list. To not simply feel bad for a few minutes when we see or hear about other people who are hurting or poor or in need and go on living unchanged. If we actually started walking with others and stopped fighting so hard to keep our lives perfect and separated from the ones who are trudging through a harder path than us, I think we’d find the that there is real purpose in that journey.
I don’t think starting to walk in someone else’s shoes, stepping into their world, is as complicated as it may seem, either. A smile. An encouraging word. Taking time out of your day to just talk with someone, really talk, about how they are doing. And listening. Because everyone has a story to tell, and everyone has a part in this story of life to play. We all have things to teach each other, something to bring and something to receive. Things that we would never know unless we traded our shoes to walk a mile in someone else’s.
-Christine, on behalf of Atinga Collective