I’ve been buying the same style of shoes for the last twenty-five years. It’s now 40 years since my knee reconstruction and comfortable, shock absorbing shoes are a necessity. I’ve settled on ‘Rockport Walking Classic shoes as my go to footwear, when I’m not wearing boots. The problem for me is they are so well made they last and remain outwardly good, well beyond the life of their rubber, shock absorbing soles. This means that I invariably delay purchasing a new pair because they still look good. It’s usually my lovely wife who points out that I am limping or complaining more than usual of sore feet and swollen legs and thus need new shoes.
Eventually, I’ll let the moths fly from my wallet and I will purchase some new shoes. It’s pretty easy to do so these days because I know my size and I know the brand and style I want. I just order them online and within a few days they appear.
The problem is I am too mean to throw out the old one which means I have this growing collection of very presentable but unwearable shoes. Actually, that is not quite true because another sign that I need new shoes is that I will start to wear a pair of previously discarded shoes or scavenge a lace from one. I think the laces are the truest indicator that it’s time to replace my shoes. Once a lace starts to fray or break, that’s probably the sign!
It was singer/songwriter Joe South who made the phrase “Walk A Mile In My Shoes”, part of our vernacular back in 1970, with his song of the same name. The song has been recorded by many artists since then and invites the listener to withhold judgement on others, instead developing empathy by seeing things from the other’s perspective.
Walk a mile in my shoes,
just walk a mile in my shoes
and before you abuse, criticise and accuse,
just walk a mile in my shoes.
The fact that this song is so well known shows the importance of empathy for living a meaningful life. Any intelligent discussion about humanity will, at some point, deal with the importance of truly empathising with others in order to understand them completely.
It’s a sentiment with a long history. For example, Harper Lee in her famous novel, ‘To Kill a Mockingbird’, has the lawyer Atticus Finch say, “You never really know a man until you stand in his shoes and walk around in them.” Atticus declares this while imparting advice to his young daughter on the need for empathy.
While empathy is often discussed in the context that being empathetic makes you more compassionate to others, in a practical sense, being empathic enhances our ability to communicate our point of view with other people.
Marcus Aurelius, Roman Emperor from A.D. 161 to 180, was also a philosopher. His ‘Meditations of Marcus Aurelius’ provide readers with the remarkable spiritual reflections and exercises Marcus developed as he struggled to understand himself and make sense of the universe.
While Marcus’ ‘Meditations’ were composed solely to provide himself with personal consolation and encouragement, in doing so Marcus created one of the greatest works of philosophy, a timeless collection that has been consulted and admired by statesmen, thinkers and readers throughout the centuries.
For example, Marcus wrote: “Whenever you are about to find fault with someone, ask yourself the following question: What fault of mine most nearly resembles the one I am about to criticise?”
Marcus rightly points out that in most situations of conflict, people act as mirrors for each other. The thing that most upsets us in another person is the thing we most detest in ourselves.
A couple of centuries earlier, Jesus had quite a bit to say about this too. He said that it is easy to see the faults of others and ignore our own. “Do not judge, so that you may not be judged. For with the judgement you make you will be judged, and the measure you give will be the measure you get. Why do you look at the speck of sawdust in your brother’s eye and pay no attention to the plank in your own eye? How can you say to your brother, ‘Let me take the speck out of your eye,’ when all the time there is a plank in your own eye? You hypocrite, first take the plank out of your own eye, and then you will see clearly to remove the speck from your brother’s eye.” (Matthew 7:1-5).
Through Jesus, God walked ‘a mile in our shoes’, feeling our pain and suffering. Jesus felt the sting of hunger and poverty. He experienced the shattering loss of the death of loved ones. He knew the stab of personal betrayal. He experienced the heartache of being abandoned by those who should have loved him the most. He felt like God was far away and had forgotten him. Jesus felt the crushing power of death itself.
Having walked in our shoes, Jesus’ final words were, “Father forgive them, for they know not what they do.” In this we see astounding empathy, worthy of our aspirations.
It is the gospel, and it’s good news.
Brian Spencer, Minister