If it was me…putting ourselves in another’s shoes

If it were me ___________________.
I am ____________, too. You don’t see me doing _____________.
My friend is ____________, if they were in that position I would want ____________.

In the past few weeks I have heard the fill-in-the-blanks above completed in numerous ways. In sentences about people working on Thanksgiving and people shopping on Thanksgiving. In the sentences of people who had full tables of food and warm homes and people who were seriously in need. In people defending Ray Rice and in people condemning him. I have heard leaders in government expressing opinions on people and people expressing opinions on leaders in government. And, let us not forget myriad thoughts of people about almost every conceivable position in Ferguson.

In the course of listening to the cacophony of anger, judgment, and gossip, I have noticed one sentiment, phrased numerous ways, seems to come up again and again. It’s a version of seeing things from another’s perspective and you can hear it in the fill-in-the-blanks above. We are taught to put ourselves in others’ shoes, but somewhere along the path, that adage has been corrupted.

Putting ourselves in others’ shoes doesn’t mean applying our personal beliefs, prejudices, and leanings to someone else’s life. Putting ourselves in someone else’s shoes at its core is about losing self for one minute. It’s trying to truly understand where someone who may be absolutely foreign and 100% different from us is coming from. It’s about experiencing reality the best we can from another person’s perspective.

When the language of putting ourselves in someone else’s place becomes about expressing what we think or would have done instead of seeking to be compassionate (literally to feel with), it is rotten to its core. It becomes just another way to advance the self-centeredness that seems to be ever-growing stronger in our society.

The next time you have the opportunity to fill in the blank on any of the sentences above, I implore you to spend a moment considering, “Do my words cause division?” Ask yourself if the “you” that you are putting in someone else’s shoes could ever really understand that person’s reality without having lived their life for a day, much less exchanged words.

We all have beliefs and opinions that we hold to be true that are based on real experiences and interactions. We all have free speech. We should share what we believe, but own it in a way that doesn’t simplify, negate, or repress another person’s life or reality to make ourselves feel better or superior. Because really, can we ever truly know what we would do if we were someone else?

The next time you fill in the blanks above consider doing it in the following way.

If it was me, I would try to do the absolute best I could do and hope others would make an effort to understand.

I am in need of support as well, you WON’T see me letting others fall.

My friend is that person I am judging in someone else’s eyes. If they were in that position I would want someone to truly seek to understand what it was like to honestly be “in their shoes.”

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