A Mile In Their Shoes
Before you judge someone, walk a mile in their shoes. ~Unknown
My mother always taught me to think about things from other people’s perspective before reacting to them, a life lesson that has translated into the empathetic, gentle style of parenting I teach, write about, and follow with my own children. Discerning what other people feel isn’t always easy, of course, and our own experiences, attitudes, and emotions can get in the way. But seeking to not just understand, but to really feel what another person feels is vital to true communication and connection. To that end, I try to always ask myself, whether interacting with my children, my husband, or any other person who crosses my path, “How would I feel if…”
So come, take a walk with me~
How would I feel if I was suddenly thrust from my safe, familiar world into a startlingly new and uncomfortable world where I couldn’t function on my own, where my very survival depended entirely on beings who I didn’t know, didn’t understand, and who didn’t understand me? Would I learn to feel safe in this new world if they left me for hours on end in dark places with no way to communicate, no way to meet my own needs? Or would I learn to trust these new beings if my needs were met day and night, if they were always available, always responsive, always gentle?
How would I feel if I was a small person in a big world, a world where large beings were constantly jabbering at me in a language I barely understood, a world where everything was a challenge, from climbing out of a chair to learning to control my bodily functions, a world where every day, all day long, I was confronted with new things to taste, new things to explore, new things to discover. If I tried to communicate and no one slowed down to listen, would I learn to listen? If I got overwhelmed by all the new challenges and was punished, would I learn how to cope with my emotions? If I was snatched away from my explorations with no warning, no explanation, would I learn to respect other people’s spaces and paces? Or would I learn to listen if I was heard, cope if I was helped, and respect if I was respected?
How would I feel if I was an adult-sized person, my body flooded with a consistently inconsistent rush of mind-altering hormones, in a world of adults who demanded adult maturity from me, but treated me like a child? Would I learn to cope with the huge life changes taking place if my awkwardness incited conflict instead of compassion? Would I be willing to share my struggles if my still-growing communication skills were taken at face value instead of my heart being heard? Would I desire to make good choices if the most important people in my life didn’t trust me enough to let me make them? Or would I learn confidence by being understood, trust by being truly heard, responsibility by being trusted to be responsible?
How would I feel if I was a new parent, struggling with exhaustion, overwhelmed by newness, desperate to make the right decisions for my precious new baby, but was surrounded by conflicting advice and head-shakers and nay-sayers? Would I learn to trust my instincts if every choice I made was the subject of commentary and unsolicited advice? Would I grow into my new role if I was pushed and shamed and coerced into following other people’s parenting choices? Would I learn to share my fears and concerns if they were met with negativity, ridicule, and debate? Or would I find my own path in the world of parenting if I was allowed to listen to my heart? Would I discover my parenting niche if I was trusted to make my own choices? Would I be open to new ideas and find support if my struggles were met with reassurance and compassion and acceptance?
How would I feel if I was a strong, wise, gifted person in a body that was beginning to fail me with age? Would I feel valued if others only saw my frailty and not my strength? Would I offer wisdom if my life experiences were ridiculed? Would I share my gifts if no one bothered to slow down and recognize them? Or would I still feel I had life to live, something to give if my stories were heard, if my wisdom was received, if someone, anyone, took the time to sit with me and talk for awhile.
L.R.Knost is a best-selling parenting and children’s book author and founder and director of Little Hearts/Gentle Parenting Resources, an online resource for gentle parenting education, articles, and research. Books by L.R.Knost include Whispers Through Time: Communication Through the Ages and Stages of Childhood , Two Thousand Kisses a Day: Gentle Parenting Through the Ages and Stages , and The Gentle Parent: Positive, Practical, Effective Discipline the first three books in the Little Hearts Handbook gentle parenting series, as well as her children’s picture books Petey’s Listening Ears and the soon-to-be-released Grumpykins series available from Amazon and other major retailers.