In Their Shoes

With all the antipathy and insensitivity that seems to have dominated our lives over the past couple of years, now more than ever, our world needs people to be tolerant and respectful toward one another. We especially need to be understanding toward those who make choices different from our own, those who face hard decisions and circumstances and those who have extra challenges because of who they are.

Many people lack tolerance when others are different from themselves in some way they deem morally unacceptable. Does everyone need to be exactly the same in order for society to work civilly? Do people need to be carbon copies in order to be accepted and treated respectfully by others? No. People don’t need to have the same skin color, clothing choices, religion, lifestyle, life path, personal interests, sexuality and preferences, body type, financial status, personality, etc.

What causes some people to treat those who are different in a negative manner? Lack of education, which leads to a lack of understanding, seems to be at the root of this way of thinking, as well as familial and religious influences. And many never take it upon themselves to get educated and rid themselves of their ignorance. They think all people should be a certain way and if people don’t assimilate to their preferences, then they condemn them. Hopefully, most people will get to a point sometime in their lives where they care to inform themselves and to grow as human beings.

If you find it difficult to accept the choices that others have made to live their own authentic life, try to imagine yourself in their circumstances. Really try to think through all the various factors that have led the person to be in their position – childhood trauma, genetics, physical, emotional and mental issues, familial on-goings, financial strife, logistical influences, bad luck. Try to understand why they feel the way they do, why they express themselves the way they do, and how these things lead them to make the decisions they do.

Make this a task for yourself and actually spend the time necessary to think through things. Each person’s life experience is unique and one lives his life by making the choices he feels best benefit him. Hence the phrase, “to each his own.”

I used to get flustered by people who I thought were crappy drivers (and still do when I forget to be patient). Note that I am not referring to the universally agreed upon jerk driver, who purposely engages in bad and sometimes dangerous driving because he has no concern for others. I’m talking about the granny who is entering the freeway at 30 mph, the new teen driver who has accidentally cut someone off, folks who do not check their blind spot when changing lanes, and so on. I would get upset with these people unnecessarily. Now, I try to remember to ask myself why they made the choice they did. And I remind myself that most people are not out to intentionally cause frustration in others.

I ask myself questions to help me be logical and unbiased when judging the choices made by others that might be different from mine. Is the person doing something to purposefully and intentionally harm others? Overwhelmingly, most people are caring and want to help others. Is the person trying to make me be like them? Most likely not; they just want to be allowed to be who they really are without harassment and with understanding. Did this person choose to put himself through some form of hardship because they like it (being judged, bullied or disowned, struggling to have life’s basic necessities, losing their ‘community’, etc.)? No; they are doing it to be their true self and to achieve the health and happiness toward which we all strive.

Are this person’s choices really detrimental to the world or do I simply disagree with their way of doing something? Most likely I’m being judgmental and their choices are not at all harmful to society. Am I trying to control others’ life choices? Likely yes, and I should let them make the choices that are best for their lives.

If all else fails and you still find yourself unreasonably judging others, remember that no one benefits from that behavior. Show kindness, respect and love for your fellow human beings; they will thank you for it. And it will make the world a better place, which we could all use right now.