You know that saying, “walk a mile in my shoes”? My daughter and her classmates got a great, first-hand experience of this today. She is a student of American Sign Language (ASL) and their assignment today was to not use their voices all day long. It’s called “voices off day” and everyone participates as part of their class final. They each wore a small sign around their necks that they could show people explaining why they weren’t talking. All of their teachers, and their parents, had to sign off on a sheet stating that their student/child didn’t verbalize during the day or evening.
I asked my daughter how the day went and she said it was much harder then she expected. She said she almost cried several times because she felt completely isolated outside of her sign language classroom. She felt like no one really understood her and that it was so hard to communicate, many times she ended up not saying anything. We talked about how people who are deaf, or unable to communicate in the way most people around them can, must feel day in and day out. This was a just a 24-hour experiment for these kids, but lots of people find it hard to communicate as part of their everyday lives. And as most of us know, communication is key to living a life where you feel valued and valuable.
What I love about this experience is that it provided an opportunity to bear the burden of another person and to walk in their shoes, even if only for a short time. If it makes a great enough impact, it creates greater compassion and understanding next time these kids run into someone who doesn’t fit in to what would be considered the “norm” of the social setting. Let’s face it, we could all use a little more compassion in life. I may be the most popular person in one setting, and a complete outsider in another. How I treat people when I’m on top should reflect how I want to be treated when I’m on the bottom. The only way to show compassion well, is to bear the burden of the other people…walk in their shoes.
Miriam Webster defines compassion this way: “sympathetic consciousness of others’ distress together with a desire to alleviate it.” This idea of showing compassion, bearing one another’s burdens, is why I am so drawn to people who we might consider outsiders or different. We all want to fit in, and sometimes our current situations make that virtually impossible except when someone shows compassion. This is why I love to spend time with homeless people. I can’t change their financial state or their lack of housing and basic necessities, but I can spend time with them and make them feel less alone. I can enter their story, be present in their situation and possible distress, and connect heart-to-heart. For the moments we are together, I can help to make them feel less alone and they in turn, make me feel like part of their tribe and that, for my heart, is glorious.
This same heart of compassion and bearing one another’s burdens is why I’m starting to get involved with cross-cultural work. People come to America for all kinds of reasons but the primary driver is freedom. They are looking for a way to live in greater freedom with greater options for their own futures, as well as the futures of their families. Unfortunately, some people were, and are still today, forced to come to America in the bonds of slavery and now that they are here, they too desire freedom and greater options for their futures. There is so much richness in cross-cultural communities because when we can live out of compassion, we can learn so much from each other. No hidden agendas of forcing people to conform to our expectations. Instead, hearts wanting to learn each other’s stories, bear each other’s burdens and turn our lives from us-and-them to all. All included. All cared for. All valued. All loved. Each one walking in the others shoes together as we move forward. Each one connecting and building community.
Jesus loved all people. He loved the most unlovely people in society in His time here on earth and guess what…He still does. No one is beyond the love, grace, peace and mercy of God. No one. Jesus loves and calls out to all people regardless of every single difference we might have. Walk in someone’s shoes and while you are doing that, invite them to walk in yours.