I watch the world from my little corner of things. Lately it feels small indeed. Some days, I am very sure I don’t want to leave it for any reason. Some days, I catch myself wondering how to put myself in someone else’s place.
But I’m a writer, which means I need the ability – the imagination – the empathy – to understand how other people think and feel.
You only get one chance to make a good first impression, according the old saying. But the Cherokee suggest, Don’t judge a man until you have walked a mile in his shoes. That pithy statement brings back two memories. The first memory goes back decades. It was a time in my life marked by a strange loneliness. I walked around in a world of hurt with that loneliness as my only companion. I’m not kidding: it had a grip on me that just wouldn’t let go.
I went with some friends to a concert. Outside the theater, we ran into a man out of the past of one of my friends. He hugged his old sweetheart with glee and then shook our hands. As he held that hand he looked into each face, made eye contact and held it.
I dropped my gaze almost immediately, too seared inside by my intense depression to be able to maintain eye contact. I was shocked when he pointedly ignored me for the next twenty minutes that we sat and talked with him. He wouldn’t look at me or acknowledge a single thing I said. How in the world had I managed to offend a stranger? What the hell had I done wrong? As I sat there, suddenly I knew what had happened: the man was black, and the held hand and eye contact were his way of checking who was racist inside.
I was horrified to realize someone could think this of me, but too young and too caught up in my misery to say a word. And even more depressed by the idea that a perfect stranger had judged me – and found me wanting.
The second instance is more recent. Last year I met up with a group at a downtown brewery. Someone’s husband showed up later and took the seat next to me. I tried to make conversation, but he answered in short syllables. I couldn’t read him or his body language; he was “off” in some weird way. I chalked it up to the guy being an asshole or socially retarded and immediately forgot about it.
Months later I learned via the grapevine that this man was recovering from a medical condition that almost killed him. He’d been ill for over a year and was still struggling his way back to normal health and normal life. Boy, did that information make me revise my original opinion of him… and feel bad that I’d judged him so fast.
Will these quotes or experiences keep me from judging other people? Not always. But they do remind me to attempt to get all the facts (and to check that my facts are indeed facts).
Like the Cherokee say: You can’t really understand another person’s experience until you’ve walked a mile in their shoes. I enjoy adding .…that way, you’re a mile away from them — and have their shoes.
And finally, this whole debate reminds me to keep my sense of humor. An ability to laugh at people’s absurd conclusions – and at myself and my own – has saved me more times than I can count. ***
NOTES: © Jadi Campbell 2017. ***I quite enjoy these quotes, too: A lie can travel half way around the world while the truth is putting on its shoes. — Charles Spurgeon. Give a girl the right shoes, and she can conquer the world. — Marilyn Monroe. Read more pithy quotes at:
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