Walk a Mile in His Shoes…Unless He is Wrong
by Jason Wisdom
We all know the old adage: “You’ll never understand a man until you walk a mile in his shoes.” When I was growing up, my parents told me many times: “try to put yourself in their shoes.” Beyond that, I was always reminded to “give them the benefit of the doubt.” These lessons are indispensable if a person desires to have good relationships and conversations. And I think that we all generally agree with them. However, I fear that we are too selective about when we deploy them.
We basically agree with the phrase “you just have to put yourself in their shoes” as long as the other person is upset, hurting, struggling, or when they say something rash in a moment of grief or stress. We also typically agree with it when we realize that we crossed the line or said/did something insensitive unintentionally. Basically, we are totally comfortable with putting ourselves in their shoes as long as we feel in control and the other person is “compromised” in some way. We can understand, or at least try to imagine, how the other person feels. That is basic empathy.
But we get really uncomfortable with the idea of putting ourselves in their shoes when both parties are “standing tall.” Particularly when we find ourselves at odds with someone over an issue that we are very passionate about. In these situations, we completely do away with the idea of putting ourselves in their shoes. We change it to: “Walk a mile in his shoes…unless he is wrong.” If I am right and the other person is wrong, then there is no reason to put myself in his/her shoes. Why would I put myself in the shoes of someone who is wrong? Some people are so far gone I am not sure that
they even have shoes! At least that is how we often subconsciously approach them. I am convinced that this is why so many conversations break down (or never get off the ground) on tough issues.
Are you willing to put yourself in the shoes of someone you think is 100% wrong? I want you to think of an issue about which you are extremely passionate. Something that really gets you going. Can you put yourself in the shoes of a person who is equally fired up, but for the exact opposite point of view? I would imagine that many people have never even considered trying it. Some people reading this are probably mad at me for even suggesting it. But I am convinced that until you are able to do so, you will struggle to have good conversations about these types of issues. You will be stuck in a cycle of trying to express your views more passionately (which usually means louder or with more cutting sarcasm) than the other person, and typically walk away either feeling superior, like you were just bashing your head against the wall, or both.
The reason I think it is essential to put yourself in the shoes of someone you cannot see eye to eye with is that it gives you common ground where there appears to be none. Let me give you an example…
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