A Mile in Someone Else’s Shoes

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Oftentimes our default mode is our selfish mode

Sometimes we stay in our own little bubbles of comfort and stay away from what we are unfamiliar with. It’s natural. After all, we are humans and we naturally gravitate towards what makes us feel secure.

We tend to overdo it and dismiss behaviours and opinions we struggle to understand as dumb or irrational. I saw a lot of this growing up. The grown-ups simply dismissed as insignificant what they didn’t understand, or found odd, different and unacceptable.

“He voted for that political party? What an idiot.”

“You believed that he loved you? Stupid.”

“She stayed in an abusive relationship? Fool.”

All this may sound cliché. We know that we should be open-minded and empathetic but in reality, we jump into defensive mode when we are faced with contrasting views. Look at people engaged in a hot discussion on a topic that is very dear to them. It’s usually a hot mess with people yelling over each other and trying to get their points across the room.

Think of debates concerning political or religious issues. Sometimes tensions rise so high that we’re ready to duck down in case people start throwing furniture. Sometimes it seems like participants have only one goal: to be right and to throw each other’s opinions out of the window. Many times, we unwittingly operate on selfish mode, assuming that our own perspectives matter the most.

Sometimes we choose to live in a bubble of ignorance

“Any child who commits suicide is simply stupid.”

This was the opinion of a family friend during a heated debate about suicide in South Africa following the tragic news of a nine-year-old boy who had allegedly hanged himself. The terrible news had sparked a debate about mental health and bullying. This individual’s conclusion was that it didn’t make sense that a young child would take away his own future so the child was clearly stupid. Needless to say, I was horrified. Such thinking seriously ruins progress and development.

Dismissing what you don’t understand as garbage is an easy habit to catch. Let’s admit it, we unwittingly do it all the time. It’s effortless and convenient. But it is also lazy and counterproductive, trapping us in our own little bubbles of ignorance – and arrogance too.

Take a step back and assess

In contrast to our self-centred nature, we could try to see things from others’ perspectives. Some people do it more often the others. Some others rarely do it. Nevertheless, we should try to make it second nature, a way of living. If we try to see the reasoning from the other side we are guaranteed to learn a thing or two.

To start with, we should recognise that we all have biases thanks to our upbringing and personal experiences. More than seven billion people in this world have different perspectives and experiences. We cannot all possibly have what we want so empathy makes our coexistence much more bearable.

In addition to that, remember that if one person has does something that may seem crazy, he or she may definitely be crazy. But if more than one person does the same, then there has to be a reason worth analysing.

Talk it out and get informed

Above all, be well-informed. We shouldn’t really judge our Chinese neighbours based on what Uncle Sam told us, or judge our Jewish classmate based on the racist jokes we heard from our friends. They may act different or think differently but they are just like us. They are human. Their voices matter and should carry just as much weight as ours. The best way to form opinions about others is through the good old-fashioned way: direct and civil interaction, instead of from what we hear through the grapevine.

Dismissing someone’s actions and ways of thinking as insignificant doesn’t help anyone. So let us step out of our own shoes, put on the shoes of others and try to walk a mile in them.

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Maybe the next time we ask ourselves, “Why the heck would someone do that?” we shouldn’t just shrug it off. To be candid, it can be really difficult to try and see things from others’ perspective but doing so can open a whole new world for us. If we make an effort to walk a mile in the shoes of others, if we try to understand the reasons for their actions then maybe, just maybe, the world could have a lot more of understanding and humanity going around.

Feliciana Nezingu, South Africa

6 thoughts on “A Mile in Someone Else’s Shoes”

    1. Yes, they’re definitely guidelines we should stick with! The world would be so much different. It’s such a huge shame that we often forget to do so.

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