Sunday, September 22, 2013

Step Out of the Comfort Clogs

"Why walk a mile in someone else's shoes 
when you can walk a thousand in your own?"

I heard this on the radio yesterday.  It was an ad for shoes and while I know the advertisers were trying to be "cute" with their little play on words, I thought to myself, "What a terrible way to put it." How incredibly selfish. Your tag line basically says:
Don't worry about how anyone else feels, it's all about you.
Empathy is overrated.
I know they were just trying to sell really comfortable shoes, but still it really, really bothered me. I was on my way to work and found my eyes watering and had to compose myself.  I sat at the stop light wondering: Do we really live in a world where you can come up with tag line like this for your product without a second thought?  I pictured the marketing group sitting around a large table in a cramped meeting room trying out different slogans for their new line of clogs. Jane, a marketing pro and senior executive says:
"Hey I got it! How about this:  Why walk a mile in someone else's shoes when you can walk a thousand in your own?"  She looks around excitedly.
Blank stares look back. Finally, someone speaks up:
"No, Jane. We here at Comfort Clogs are not going to use that one."
"But why?" Her protest borders on a whine. "It's a great tag line!"
"Because it'll make us look like heartless, self-centered schmucks."
She drops her arms to her sides and rests her chin on her chest. After a few moments of remorse she responds:
"You're right.  Let's go back to our usual slogan "Our Shoes Are Great" and call it a day."
Meeting adjourned.
It didn't work that way, obviously. The tag line was a "winner." I am serious when I say it caused my eyes to water. OK, I wasn't sobbing like a fool over a shoe commercial, but that terrible sentiment did make me cringe and then tear up. It was so depressingly selfish that I couldn't stand it. Maybe it's because my 18 year old nephew is living with me and so I see the world differently now. I worry about the world he is growing up in in a way I never did before. Or maybe it is because I am tired of hearing all the anti-immigrant sentiment being thrown around in the news by people who's only contact with a Mexican person is every other month when they pay their gardener.
Or maybe it is because of what is going on in Syria and how many Americans are responding to it.
"Oh well.  Let them solve their own problems. We're not the world's police."
You are aware that people, children, are DYING, right?  While bombs may not solve the problem (Do they ever?) certainly you can't possibly be that cavalier and callous when you see the faces of innocent children covered in chemical burns?
Or maybe you haven't walked a mile in their shoes, you've only spent time in your own Bruno Maglis?

Later on that same day, as I sat at my desk at work, a helicopter flew over my building.  The thump-thump-thump of the blades made me stop typing. It seemed really close, almost like it was going to land on the roof. Then I thought about how if I lived in a lot of places in the middle east, including Syria, I would probably be under my desk at this point, covering my head, like I was in some kind of an earthquake drill, only this time, I would be worried about bombs or sarin gas or bullets ricocheting around. I took a deep breath and thought,
"Get back in your own shoes, Hope." (As you can see, I am sarcastic even with myself.)

My how the world would change if we tried to walk a mile in other people's shoes.  Even if we didn't physically cram our feet into their Crocs, Nikes or Payless Pro Wings, at least we could visualize being "in their shoes" in our hearts and minds. We could pause before we speak. Think from our hearts instead of just from our political platforms. Maybe then, we would respond to tough situations a whole lot less politically, dogmatically, or casually, and instead respond with compassion, sensitivity and curiosity.  I am not advocating for an emotional knee-jerk response mind you, mistakes can be made there as well, but in a way that says, "These people are not "THEM"...they are human beings just like me. Cut-downs, hunger, sick babies, chemical burns -- hurt them as much as they would me."

I always laugh when I see the fundraisers that support women's causes where men have to walk in heels. These poor guys topple around, groaning and slipping and rolling their ankles like a circus act. Meanwhile, the ladies laugh and nod there heads and say things like, "Aren't you glad you don't have to wear those to work?" (Meanwhile, they're all standing around on a Saturday in heels that no one forced them to wear, but still, let them have their moment.) The guys always agree these shoes are a pain in the a...ankle, but they still love the ladies to don them on Friday nights along with those really restricting, see-through leg covering thingy-s you always see sexy women wear, what are they called again? Oh yeah, nylons. Anyway, the point is to get these guys to "empathize" with what women have to go through. For about an hour it works. But then the guys finish the "race" and go put on a few bandaids and their big stinky Nikes and the day goes on. While they were literally "stepping into someone else's shoes", for awhile, there is a big difference between that and wearing the shoes all day. There is a big difference between fasting for one day and what a hungry child in Chicago goes through on a weekly basis when her mom runs out of rice and macaroni by Tuesday. And there is a BIG difference between holding your breath for three seconds as a helicopter flies over your building and hiding in fear wondering if the building is going to blow up around you.
It literally takes BEING that person to really understand. That is impossible, I know. But can't we try? Can't we think just for a minute about how it feels to be someone else? How it feels to be called a name? Left out? Starving? Scared? Alone? Can we imagine what we would do if we were in that situation? How we would feel? Can we see past skin color? Sexual orientation? Religious beliefs? Tatoos?
Can we try on their shoes? Walk a mile?
Most of the time we stay in our own shoes, dust them off when they get a little dirty and keep moving along our merry way. I'd like to get out of my Comfort Clogs more often and try to see things from the viewpoint of someone else who walks on rocky ground with no shoes at all. I want to walk a mile in your shoes, or at least try--not just jog along through rose gardens while you struggle to take another step in a barren desert. I don't want human beings to be treated like mere stastistics, a "drain on the economy", "illegals" "foreigners" or "those people over there" or whatever label we give you that says "You stay on your journey and I'll stay on mine and never the two shall meet." 
I want to pause. Think with my heart. Show compassion. Get out of my comfort clogs and walk in your shoes. And I pray that despite the influence of self-centered marketing campaigns and heartless political bantering, we can all do the same.

-Hope Horner, 2013
Follow on Twitter at

No comments:

Post a Comment