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Monday, September 17, 2018

Walking in other people's shoes, when they are wearing boots and 'heroism'

When sharing situations or story with others, I've noticed that most of the time people usually are pretty good about listening.  From my experience, when people try to relate, their attempt is usually well meaning,  accepted and appreciated.

However, I've seen and experienced and probably been guilty of one or both of the following sins:
  • Try too hard to relate, especially where it is impossible to relate.
  • Expressing 'my experience' in a way that could be seen as 'one-upping'.
I refer to the first 'sin' as "walking in other people's shoes when they are wearing boots".   The idea being that you might be able to understand or related on some level to what another is saying--walking in their shoes--but that their circumstance is different enough--they are wearing boots instead of their shoes--that you wouldn't be able to get the same feel for their circumstance by just 'walking in their shoes'.

I refer to the second 'sin' as 'heroism' because whether the intention is pure or not, if you are not careful in relating and tell about 'your difficult circumstance', it could be seen as saying to the other person (condescendingly) that 'your problem is bad, but let me tell you about the time when I...".  In other word, "I've had to deal with worse" or "I dealt with it better".  
  • You could be trying to help them 'understand' that their problem 'isn't all that bad' and is 'survivable' based on your experience.  While there MAY be some truth to this, if handled wrong this could effectively dismiss their concern out of hand rather than letting them express it.  Maybe they just need to talk and get it out of their system to realize "you know it really wasn't that big of a deal".  Your motive is pure, but it isn't exactly what is useful to the other party at that time.
  • You could say it out of an impure motive--exasperation, jealousy, etc--and effectively shutting them down and telling them to suck it up.  While this may feel good at the moment when you are frustrated, it doesn't necessarily lead to a great relationship.   I believe when you are getting to this point, 'listen' as much as possible, help where feasible and when it is too much or what you think as ridiculous just tell them, "I wish I could be more helpful" and quietly extract yourself from the situation where possible to not make it worse. 

Having said all that, I realize as a parent that sometimes when a kid is being irrational there are time and a place to not 'humor' their thinking/worry.  There are times and places, when you just have to face their circumstance completely logically, despite a desire not to.  They are times and places also where you have to give them context.   The way I try to handle this is letting them know that their concerns or worry is legitimate and but that in the big scheme of things they are still in a good place. For example, if a kid (or an adult for that matter) says, "my life is horrible" and just refuses to acknowledge that the good they have, point out as bad as things may be there are people in this world who are too busy trying to survive to have the luxury of worrying about what they are.  It isn't to dismiss their worry/concern, but to let them know, let's keep it in perspective.


I look at it this way, I believe my Higher Power, God, hears my prayers and concerns and provided my motives are proper He will address them and not dismiss them.  In other words, while He may not see it as a big deal or big issue, He knows it is to me.  Sometimes addressing my concerns  will not mean trying to 'solving' them, but showing me a different perspective.  In my faith, God, in the form of His Son, has walked in my shoes and he has faced everything we have.  He lets me know that, but He doesn't impose His 'experience' on me, but rather let's me know that he has been there.




Lest it seem like I am saying, do not try to relate, I believe the furthest thing from that.  It is important to relate and try to empathize with others.  But, IMHO, it is also important to remember the limitations of 'relating'.  



  • Sometimes, you are missing key differences that make your situation different enough than theirs as to be not exactly relateable.
  • Sometimes, even if you can relate, sometimes people need to experience a situation as theirs first, regardless, process it, mourn it if necessary.  Only then they may be in a better place to hear that they aren't the only ones to be in that situation/circumstance. 
  • Sometimes, they need a different person, closer to their age or or just an outsider, for example, to relate.  This I believe is hard for parents to accept.
  • Sometimes, they need to hear how you can relate, but they need to hear it at at different time or with a lighter touch such as "I don't know if this helps at all or is anything like..." vs. "I understand". 

I guess the best advice, is to be pure in your motives in listening, attempt to be mindful of what others need and try to give them what you can, understanding that not everyone is open to hearing your words.