“Before you criticize a man, walk a mile in his shoes. That way, when you do criticize him, you’ll be a mile away and have his shoes.” ― Steve Martin
It wouldn’t be as funny if we didn’t recognize how often people really do behave this way.
Why is it so rare for people to understand and appreciate another person’s experience before judging their behavior or actions?
And why is it so rare for leaders to listen to the voice of their employees or recognize the effect of their misapplied criticism?
This concept of walking in another person’s shoes is grounded in ancient wisdom. Most of us embrace the idea and even more, we expect it from others. Yet in practice, it seems more a platitude than a value.
I suppose it’s human nature to focus on our own needs or problems and to believe our version of the story.
“The world is divided into those who think they are right.” – Unknown
And it’s a very small world.
A small world that often leads to narrow perspectives, broken communication, poor decisions and damaged relationships.
People become labels, levels, functions or barriers.
We miss the message because we dislike the messenger.
We dictate the solution without understanding the problem.
All for an unwillingness to part with our favorite pair of shoes.
“Everything that irritates us about others can lead us to an understanding of ourselves.”― C.G. Jung
The way we walk in another’s shoes is through language and experience.
Language through the art of listening with the intent to understand both what is said and unsaid. Asking questions and refining our understanding until we can, as much as possible, fully appreciate, reflect and restate the other person’s perspective.
Experience through the act of going where they go, to see what they see, hear what they hear and in some cases do what they do. Experiencing it for ourselves and not assuming we understand how it is in their world or that we can judge it from afar.
This practice serves not only the person to whom we give our time and attention but ourselves as well.
They, like us, will appreciate the opportunity to be seen, valued and understood.
We, in turn, may earn a new level of respect and the right to be heard, thus expanding our influence.
Both sides create new possibilities for cooperation and creativity.
Ultimately we become better acquainted with ourselves, our limitations, beliefs, and perceptions. Our world becomes a little larger and our eyes a little clearer.
And perhaps they pay it forward so that at least in some small way, the world is a little less divided.
“Imperfections are not inadequacies; they are reminders that we’re all in this together.” ― Brené Brown
I have a friend who, as a matter of daily practice, walks with someone every morning.
It’s common for him to invite someone he only recently met to join him on his walks. He’ll exchange numbers and say “meet me at 6:30 am and we’ll walk together.” Other walking companions are people he’s known for many years.
He never misses a day to walk with someone. Sometimes he’ll take 2 or 3, one-hour walks in a morning with different people. He even plans his vacations around taking walks with his family or close friends.
To hear him talk about it, this practice teaches him to love and appreciate all types of people and gives him a deeper respect for the challenges they face. He receives strength and wisdom through their stories.
In return, he gives his time, attention, empathy, and encouragement. People seek him out just to go for a walk. Because he’s walking in their shoes by walking beside them and listening to their stories.
Take a hand.
Take off your shoes.
And take a walk.