Before you _________(judge, criticize, speak about, throw tomatoes at) someone, walk a mile in their shoes.

I recently came across two people’s stories on the internet that served as an important reminder of this age-old, but ever-so-relevant adage. You don’t need to look very far for others who could use the reminder. Our American neighbours are in the midst of their pre-vote frenzy, looking for firm stances on issues like abortion and marriage equality. But you don’t even need to go that far. In fact, look no further than your school, workplace or family.

Amanda Todd: After posting a heart wrenching YouTube video chronicling the years of bullying, abuse and death wishes dealt out by fellow students, the 15 year old recently took her life. It makes me nauseous to think that anyone could do this to someone, let alone people who haven’t even reached the age of majority.

I was bullied on a much smaller scale in elementary school and it hurts to this day (in my twenties). I can’t imagine the courage and strength it took Amanda to carry on in spite of all the obstacles thrown in her way. I’m sure that now that’s she’d dead and the world is reacting, her bullies are beginning to see the importance of walking a mile in her shoes. It’s too late for Amanda, but not for all the other bullied kids out there.

Watch Amanda’s video and read about people’s reactions here.

Luckily, not everyone waits for a tragedy to change their ways. The next story I read renewed my faith in humankind. It shows how we can find common ground, no matter how different we thought we were.

Timothy Kurek: Raised in America’s bible belt and educated at a hyper-evangelical university, Timothy hated homosexuality. That’s until a friend’s coming-out story prompted him to walk in a gay man’s shoes, for a whole year. He really went for it, getting a job in a gay cafe and coming out to his parents and classmates who were eager to convince him to repent.

A straight evangelical in disguise, the project exposed him to the pain of name-calling and of being rejected by his family. He found out that his own mother wrote in her journal that she would rather have terminal cancer than a gay son. Harsh. Luckily,the experience also exposed him to a new group of friends and eventually a new way to live his faith that involves supporting gay rights.

He wrote a book about it called “The Cross in the Closet”. I think I’ll read it.

To read an article about Timothy’s story in The Guardian, click here.

So there you have it: two stories with different endings that both drive the point home. So from now on, I’ll try to do a better job of remembering and assimilating this motto of compassion and understanding.  I’ll endeavour to walk a mile before judging, speaking, dismissing, giving a dirty look.

And if that doesn’t work, I might try out Billy Connolly’s approach: ” Before you judge a man, walk a mile in his shoes. After that, who cares? …He’s a mile away and you’ve got his shoes. “

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