You know that expression, right? The one about walking a mile in someone else’s shoes? I think (based on extensive internet research that took about 30 seconds) the proverb originates from the Cherokee tribe, who reportedly said,
Don’t judge a man until you’ve walked a mile in his shoes.
And, of course, there’s the famous line from Harper Lee’s To Kill a Mockingbird (which, honestly, I read for the first time this past year), where she wrote,
You never really know a man until you understand things from his point of view, until you climb into his skin and walk around it.
Which is a cool thought, but, you know, impossible.
I get what these quotes are talking about. They’re talking about cultivating empathy, about not judging others about things you don’t understand or haven’t experienced. And that’s a worthy sentiment.
But, you know, impossible.
I have three kids. They’ve been raised by the same parents. They’ve had the same “shoes,” if you like, but not really. They’ve had similar experiences but because they are different people, their experiences impact them in different ways. If they each told you what it was like growing up in our family, you’d hear three very different stories.
I remember the first time I went to Mexico to help build a school. I tried really hard to see where the folks there were coming from. I took pictures of falling down shacks and I heard the common – they don’t have much but they are such a happy people – that we often say when we visit these kinds of places. I tried to talk to the moms and I smiled at the kids and I thought we were so alike in some ways, but really I have no clue. I have no clue what it’s like to be a mom in Mexico. We were in and out of there in under a week, and the first thing we did when we crossed the border was to stop at In-and-Out Burger and order all the food we wanted and pee in their clean bathrooms with toilets that flushed.
I can’t walk in a Mexican woman’s shoes and she can’t walk in mine.
I can’t walk in a Central Regina woman’s shoes and she can’t walk in mine.
I can’t walk in my husband’s shoes and he can’t walk in mine.
I can’t walk in your shoes. You can’t walk in my shoes. But we can share ourselves with each other, can’t we? We can share our stories and our lives and our coffee and muffins with each other.
We can’t walk in each other’s shoes but we can walk together, each of us slipping on our own Nike’s or Birkenstocks or flip flops, and won’t that be a beautiful journey.