In order to be empathetic, we were often told to “try to walk a mile in someone else’s shoes”. This means that before judging and drawing conclusions on someone we should first understand her challenges, struggles, life conditions, thought process and so on. I follow this advice very often, as I know that in order to put people in categories and their own “little boxes” — which is a process that helps me create patterns and more easily process all the information — I often jump to conclusions. So I learned to take a step back, and when analysing someone or someone´s opinion I first think about their situation, point of view and it helps me to rationalise and make a more accurate judgement, hence better decisions. It also helps make friends. :)
Walking a mile in someone else´s shoes is great advice and philosophy of living, as it makes us more sensitive to other people realities and helps us understand, rather than judge. It is a challenge though when we don't know enough about another person and in that case again, instead of jumping to conclusions, we should give them the benefit of doubt and believe in their best intentions. This is all nice and peachy — but is it always possible? We can only invest ourselves in understanding others and empathising with them when we ourselves are in a good place; when we are not reflecting our own malicious thoughts and behaviours; when we are not doubting ourselves and considering “others” a threat; when we are not finding someone to blame.
Shouldn´t we first be comfortable in our own shoes?
Start from the very literal example — you are walking in shoes a size too small for you — all of us have been there — whether that was the only size available on a super sale, you needed to borrow shoes for some fancy event or simply inherited your sister shoes when you were a child — we all remember how uncomfortably painful that is.
Now replace the shoes with something more figurative — your skin, your head and what's inside, your heart or lack of it, your stereotypes and preconceptions— everything you carry around with you, wherever you go. I know what you think. If only, we could take off all our worries, insecurities and fears as easily as we took off those uncomfortable shoes.
For me, walking in my own shoes could be a challenge from time to time and I wish in some of the situations instead of taking them off I wore them higher. For example, every time I did not stand up for myself and my rights because I thought I would lose my privilege. Or when I saw injustice and decided to stay silent. I took off my high heels entering in some places so that other people can feel taller. Other times, I was told to put on my high heels because it will help me dealing with men. I wish, I wore my warrior boots instead.
In order to make my walk in my own shoes comfortable, I need to fight stereotypes (the most minor they seemed) and I need to explain things (even when they are obvious for me) and I need to protect my rights as a woman, no matter how privileged I already am.
So, you see while looking on the other side of the world and wondering how those women are feeling right now and how uncomfortable must be walking in their shoes, try to help them pave the path. So even if they come barefoot they don't hurt their feet. Make sure, that wherever you enter you are respected as a human been, as a woman and as an individual and raise your voice — not when the lives and dignity of others are threatened but when your own are at risk. Once, we all start asking for respect, no violence, equal pay, safety and equal rights — no matter how insignificant could seem at the moment on a big scale — is when things will start changing for everyone.
So, you see the only challenge greater than learning to walk a mile or even a single step in someone else´s shoes is learning to walk a lifetime, comfortably in your own.