Someone else’s shoes

Moccasin

We’ve all heard the saying the above saying in one form or another, but what does it really mean?

I’ll illustrate this with an example taken from a recent consult.

A young woman came to me wanting to find out why her life wasn’t working the way she thought it should be. Relationships kept ending, she’d received a probation notice at work, and she kept finding herself left out of gatherings with people she thought were her friends. What was going on?

As we talked, a similar theme kept arising throughout all of the different scenarios: it was always them, not me!

She complained bitterly about an older coworker who had gotten her in trouble with management, resulting in her being given a warning that her job performance was under scrutiny. On my asking, she did admit that she was often guilty of acting like a jerk, but she seemed to think this was funny for some reason.

I asked her to tell me about this coworker, and a sad story came out. The woman was in her seventies, still having to work and bring in income so she could support her grandchildren and other dependent family members. Think about that for a moment. We dream of being able to retire around age 65, yet this poor soul could not because she was the sole provider for a very dysfunctional family.

Yet not only was she coming to work every day, she was being treated rather rudely by this younger staff member who made sure her work days were filled with challenges and strife. No wonder she complained to the management!

So I worked with my client to have her first hold up a mirror to examine how she herself might be contributing to her own woes. This took quite awhile, but the light began to dawn.

I then had her put herself in the older woman’s place. How would she feel if she were some fifty years older, and not only still having to work full time, but then return home to take care of young family members? empathy-walking-in-someone-elses-shoes-heather-lane-vetere-2-638

At first she thought I was joking, but we continued with the exercise. She finally admitted that perhaps there was something there that was her fault, and that this had never occurred to her at all before.

As we were wrapping up, I gave her the task of walking a mile in another’s shoes before she pointed a finger at them. She admitted that it wasn’t going to be easy as she blamed her mother for her being the way she was. Maybe. Possibly. But we all have the power to change the pattern.

She was intrigued at the new point of view that had arisen and said she would do her best to try to understand someone else’s point of view before she criticized them or started playing mean tricks on them. I look forward to following her progress.

This has also been a lesson I had to learn when I was a much younger, and not always very nice, version of myself. Perhaps if we could all take a moment to walk in someone else’s shoes, to try to understand their lives a little better, we could create a more peaceful world.

Wouldn’t that be wonderful?

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