Posts from 2014-09-16

Walking a Mile (or Four) in Someone Else’s Shoes

by Kerri Gailey


“What an IDIOT!” I’m ashamed to say, one morning in my office at the manufacturing plant, those were my not-so-kind words.  I was referring to an employee who repeatedly made the same mistake on his paperwork.  I’d spent a lot of time training this guy.  By day three or four of correcting the same mistake, I had had it!

It just so happened that a supervisor, whom I really respect, was in my office when I had my little outburst.  I was halfway out of my chair ready to charge into the plant to confront the repeat offender, when this quiet, kind man sheepishly said, “I did his paperwork for him the past few days.”  Lord, kill me now.

That was a couple of years ago, and that supervisor still signs his emails to me “Sincerely V.I.” (Village Idiot).  It’s become a big joke around the office, but it showed me I viewed people at work in two categories; office people and plant people, us and them.

The Director of Hope, Jean Foltz, made me realize that work is not the only place I stereotyped people based on their location.

One Monday night at the Donation Center, Jean and a volunteer, who doesn’t have a car, had a conversation about what it was like to have to walk everywhere you went, and what limitations it placed on your life. It made such an impression on Jean that she began to plan on spending the night in a shelter, and walk everywhere she needed to go for a day.  She thought it would be a great way to gain perspective on a day in the life of our LOT Project guests.  God must have thought this was a stellar idea, because she woke up the next morning, and her car wouldn’t start.

Sure, Jean have called someone to drive her to Hope that night, but she recognized the opportunity to literally walk a few miles in someone elses shoes.  What did she learn? That walking isn’t the coolest mode of transportation, and she had crappy shoes.

She walked about an hour to reach The LOT Project that day.  By the time she got there, she was sweaty, and she smelled bad (her words, not mine).  It wasn’t because she didn’t shower that day. She washed her hair, shaved her legs, used deodorant, the whole nine yards. But all of that effort was for nothing by the time she reached her destination. She realized how quickly people are judged for they way they smell. It’s often assumed they can’t afford deodorant or soap, maybe they simply had to walk in the heat to get where they needed to go.

Back to the crappy shoes, when Jean reached the LOT Project her feet and legs were killing her.  Not because she was working muscles she hadn’t before, but because her shoes were worn out.  So she bought new shoes.  Simple solution, but not everyone can afford to do this.  Runners will tell you your shoes should be replaced every 300-500 miles to avoid injury.  If you walked everywhere you went (let’s modestly imagine 5 miles a day), you would need new shoes about every two and a half months.  What happens when you can’t afford to replace them?

Walking or taking the bus limits where you shop, and how much you buy.  If you walk to get groceries, at most you may only be able to carry enough for breakfast, lunch, and dinner the next day.  Which means you’re going to make that walk every day.  Assuming  you have the money, there are only so many places you could eat out within walking distance.  From my house, I would be limited to Sonic, Chic-Fil-A, or Burger King.  But only if I wanted to walk a couple of miles to get it.  If I had to walk to shop for clothes, I’d have Family Dollar.  Add children and bad weather to the equation.  Think of the planning that would have to go into each day.  There sure wouldn’t be much time for anything else, like helping your children with homework, and that’s if either of you still have the energy.  It would affect every aspect of your life.

Would I put that much effort into survival?  Heck, I use bad weather as an excuse not to DRIVE to the gym! I have no right to judge how anyone looks or smells, or how their kids behave.  I don’t know what effort it took just for them to be where they are.

I live about a 10 minute drive from The LOT Project.  On my side of town, you see people walking and running for exercise, but take that 10 minute drive across town, people are walking for transportation.

You see a man sitting on the steps of an abandoned storefront. He’s sweaty,  and doesn’t smell so great.  Do you make eye contact?  Most likely you aren’t going to speak to him.  You may even go so far as to cross the street to avoid him.  I may be calling you out here, but only because I had to call myself out first.  I’ve often thought before, “My goodness, surely even poor people could find a place to use some soap and water.”

How must it feel to face that sort of judgement each day?  Matthew 7:2 says, “For in the same way you judge others, you will be judged, and with the measure you use, it will be measured to you.”  Ouch.

How was Jean, after her cross-town hike, any different than that man sitting on the steps?

Jean showed me there is only one difference between “us” and “them”-- our perspective.  She succeeded in changing my perspective, but a student volunteer from AU summed it up best that very same night.  Jean asked her “What did you see tonight?”  Her response was, “A lot of people just like me.”