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March 5, 2010

You Don't Know What It Feels Like Until You Walk a Mile in Someone Else’s Shoes

Note from Susie: Today is a special guest post day. The post on my blog for today is not written by me. It is a special post written by my friend Dara from Canada. She has a great blog called Readily A Parent. She also writes a weekly parenting column for The Western Star.
Of course I have written a special guest post on her blog as well, so don’t forget to check it out at Readily a Parent.

Hmmm…I wonder if we now know what it is like to walk in each others shoes.

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When I was growing up, it was pretty rough and tumble times. We spent the majority of our time outdoors and I played predominantly with my two older brothers’ friends – there being a lack of both girls and younger children in our neighbourhood.

The kids I played with were pretty rough and pretty rude sometimes. I had been raised with the motto “if you can’t say something nice, don’t say anything at all.” So, when the insults starting flying during one of our interminable childhood fights, I was at a loss as to how what to say back and unable, really, to bring myself to say the things our friends/enemies were saying.

Beware _ Manure happens
(Photo courtesy of Kathleen Conklin )

I quickly learned my standard retort: it takes one to know one. “Dara eats cow manure!” one of the kids would scream. “It takes one to know one,” I’d scream back. Not the most witty of responses, but it served me well – I didn’t have to actually say anything nasty at all, just mirror back to the other children what they had said to me.

As I got older, the phrase left my standard lexicon. I was one of those teenagers that sympathised with everyone and everything. The childhood fights ended and our teenage cliques began, but I sailed between cliques, identifying with everyone. I guess you could say I was empathetic; I always found something nice to say about anyone.

But as I got still older, some of that young empathy faded. I began to look at the world and the people around me trying to identify the traits and behaviours I wanted for myself. Although I’ve always tried hard to be non-judgmental, I found myself often looking at the negatives in people and proclaiming I would never do that or be that way.

As a young adult I remember a friend of a friend having her young infant taken from her because she had shook him. “I would never shake a baby,” I declared. My friends and I laughed at a prominent hospital poster that informed new mothers they should “Never ever ever shake a baby!” We thought it so ridiculous that people needed to be told this.


(Photo courtesy of SBS Prevention Plus Inc.)

The next year, I sat in a mall food court and jumped to my feet to rescue a child whose mother had begun shaking him. I heard her scream before she even started “someone save him! Take him!” I could see that this mother was tired and suffering; she was young and had little help; she actually didn’t want to shake her baby but she couldn’t stop herself.

Still, though, I thought it would never happen to me. I wouldn’t let myself grow that upset. I would make sure I had support. I would walk away from my baby before I shook him.

Three children later, I sometimes wonder how I made it through their infancies WITHOUT shaking them. I have had my moments, trust me, when I’ve come as close as I am comfortable getting.

A couple of days ago, I said to a neighbour “I understand why some mothers hurt their children in the spur of the moment. I couldn’t do it myself, but I understand now.”

She looked somewhat aghast at this confession. But after a moment of silence she nodded her head. She too could understand.

It wasn’t until I became a mother myself that I learned that it really does take one to know one. Until we have walked in someone else’s shoes, or at least a close fit, we have no idea what they are feeling or experiencing.

I’ve learned that it is easy to scorn someone’s actions when their experiences are outside the realm of our knowledge. Empathy, sympathy, and kind-heartedness help us feel for others and maybe even avoid judging them harshly, but shared experience is the only way to know someone and feel what they have felt.

Do you agree that you can’t truly feel and therefore understand what you haven’t experienced, or is empathy enough?

12 Comments »

  1. My that’s a brilliant post! I feel like I know this person. Perhaps I have walked in her dirty old scuffed up red shoes.
    :-) :-) :-)

    Comment by Dara — March 5, 2010 @ 2:32 am

  2. LOL! Yes Dara you did a brilliant job writing this!

    Comment by newdaynewlesson — March 5, 2010 @ 8:01 am

  3. This is so true, I feel the same, I hope and am sure I would never shake or hurt my chidren but I can see how people are driven to it in certain situations. I have been known to joke when my toddler has been particularly difficult “are you sure it is wrong to hit a child? Oh ok then best not!” They seem to know from a very young age how to push all the buttons! I guess we show them how!

    What a brilliant guest post!

    Comment by Bev — March 5, 2010 @ 4:58 pm

  4. Lovely post, and yes, in the past especially with my first two children and my lack of parenting knowledge and support I did come close to shaking them although I would never ever want to do that.

    I too could understand that yes, some women must be so tired and unsupported that they would do this, not wanting to but unable to stop themselves.

    It’s in these situations that a partner, mother, friend can help by taking off the pressure if only for 10 mins and you can have a breath of fresh air

    Comment by marisworld — March 5, 2010 @ 6:39 pm

  5. Brilliant post.

    A difficult and emotive subject tackled with compassion and clear headedness.

    Well done, and thank you.

    Comment by Gappy — March 5, 2010 @ 9:46 pm

  6. oh yes. been there. As painful as it is to admit, i’ve been closer than i would ever like to think about.

    Comment by Heather — March 5, 2010 @ 11:11 pm

  7. My friend once said that the reality of motherhood, i.e how difficult a job it is – is the best kept secret in the world! How true – We as mothers don’t want to admit it as admitting it is sometimes seen as a personal failure, like youre not capable of doing the job. Great post Dara.

    Comment by Dymphna — March 6, 2010 @ 1:05 am

  8. That really is true!

    Comment by newdaynewlesson — March 6, 2010 @ 7:46 pm

  9. I know that there are mothers who have been so close to breaking that they were told it is better to leave the kid in their crib and go outside the house for a 5 minute walk even if it meant leaving their child unatteneded for a few minutes. Difficult to understand and condone unless like Dara says you have been there.

    Comment by newdaynewlesson — March 6, 2010 @ 7:48 pm

  10. LOL BEV!

    Comment by newdaynewlesson — March 6, 2010 @ 7:49 pm

  11. Thanks Gappy-I agree , Dara did write a great post!

    Comment by newdaynewlesson — March 6, 2010 @ 7:50 pm

  12. Heather-we have all been there. Not many are truthful enough to admit it.

    Comment by newdaynewlesson — March 6, 2010 @ 8:08 pm

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