The Shoes AND the Lens

I remember a while back talking about the decor in the bathroom of my childhood home. Weirdly enough, I’d like to revisit that. My mom had some wall art which creatively displayed popular sayings. While reading one of these plaques, my little six year old self had a hard time fully understanding, “Today is the first day of the rest of your life.” There I was sitting on the throne, taking a break from my running around and shenanigans. It was a little “rest” for me, more like a break, as compared to the actual meaning intended – what was left of my life ahead. And not only was it a break, but hey, it was the “rest of your life!” This runs along the same vein of having the time of your life; Nothing could compare. You can imagine my surprise the day I realized what it actually meant. And that was last week. Kidding!

     The other sign was one I had mentioned in an earlier post, and while I thought I had that adage completely down pat, incorporating the useful advice into everyday life, it turns out I now see it more clearly. Let me fill you in, first by sharing the axiom.

     “Never judge another man until you have walked a mile in his moccasins.”

     It’s a lovely saying, and a wise and compassionate way to navigate through life. The problem is, when we are looking at another person and their situation, the dilemma they may be faced with, or an action they take, we tend to stay in our own moccasins, which means we keep our own lens. Then, we judge their problem, situation, or actions based on what we know to be true for ourselves. Sometimes we have to remember it’s not only the shoes that do the walking, but the eyes that do the seeing.

     Like when you say, “If I were her, I would…” But if you really pay attention to that thought pattern, what’s going on is, “If she were me, I would…” I found myself to be guilty of this even just this morning, on a group chat. Whoopsie. When we take another person’s situation, and bring it in to our own experience, we can never truly understand what that person is going through. We need to bring ourselves over to THEIR position, and face whatever it is they are going through.

     Why does this even matter? Because when we ignore another person’s experience, we are not able to respond to them with love, support or compassion, which is essentially what they need. Judgement and criticism reigns (ouchie), words can be harsh, and assistance, if given at all, is often given begrudgingly. 

     Let me illustrate this further. While I do have beautiful new, red glasses that I love, when I talk about my lens, I am speaking about my life experience and my perspective on things. What might that be? 

     My lens is that of a healthy, middle-aged (cough, cough), upper middle class, college educated, heterosexual, white woman, with loving and intact nuclear and extended families, surrounded by an abundance of friends for additional love and support. Wow! There’s a lot of advantage and privilege that comes with all these tags, and I kid you not, I am aware and I am grateful for all the opportunities and amazing people in my life.

     Now, when I take a situation that someone else might be going through, no matter how tiny and seemingly inconsequential or how great and imperative it may be, I need to take off the glasses that hold my lens and my experience, and fully immerse myself in theirs.

     Let me give an example. A friend and I were having a discussion about the use of a particular word. I’m not going to say which word it is, as the point can be illustrated without it. This word, though once used quite often, has now been identified as hateful and hurtful to some people, and is no longer deemed appropriate to use. My friend complained that the world is becoming too politically correct, that she has used this word her whole life and it never meant anything derogatory, nor has she ever meant it to insult anyone.

     Well, it is not insulting or demeaning to her. In my friend’s experience and what she knows it is not a negative thing. However, try trading the shoes and the glasses and see how the word truly affects another.

     Through this new lens I see that for decades this word has been hurtful and perpetuated negative thoughts, stereotypes and oppression towards me and my community. I was never comfortable, safe, nor had any power to speak up and say, “Hey, this is not okay, it does not represent who I am and it is damaging to my soul.” Finally I feel brave enough and free to speak, and I would love for someone to truly hear and see me. 

     When I step back into my own shoes and put my glasses back on, I am better able to understand this perspective. I am can respond with love and put an end to an action that hurt another, even though I initially never meant any harm. 

     Empathy is a beautiful thing. So is clarity and understanding. Don’t just see a person’s problem or experience, see him or her. See her life, see through her lens, and see how very different it may be from you and what you know to be true in your own life. Because when we do this, we can offer love and support, and the ensuing experience of harmony ripples out to the greater community, and believe it or not, eventually to the world. Take off your shoes and walk a different walk, then take off your glasses, and see as someone else does. Size seven and some cool red frames, anyone?

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