Sunday, August 10, 2008

more about shoes

Walking in another's shoes seems to be the theme of the last coupla weeks.

So, I thought, why don't I begin a period of time (a day, a week perhaps) where I keep that thought at the forefront of my mind and vow to live each human encounter from another's perspective?

A friend and I had talked about this.  We both had read an article about a book that teaches how to do this very thing.  A major issue for her, as she always leaps to the conclusion that someone's bad day is targeted directly at her.  To her defense, people can treat her differently, as she comes on way stronger than she realizes--which can work to her benefit, too, when she wants to be the savior or center of attention.  The coming on strong issue is parallel for me: sometimes I just don't know how powerfully I present myself in verbiage, intonation, and volume--and I also, can use it to my advantage when I want the group to go a certain way.

But back to shoes: understanding that someone's bad day is not a personal attack, or that someone's lack of diplomatic skills doesn't mean they're siding with the enemy is critical to human interaction.  A squinting glare may be a sign she holds you in contempt, or a projection of that morning's fight with her spouse, or maybe she just forgot her glasses at home.  We, as humans, tend to take things, well, rather personally.  We make all sorts of assumptions when we walk blindly into contact.  We project all kinds of past experiences, hurts and triumphs onto others.  

Which means we can wrongly downgrade or even elevate someone's behavior beyond their intent.  A touch on the shoulders while staring into one's eyes and asking "how're you?" can feel more intimate than intended to a person who's needful or lacking self-esteem.  And this a major reason why people in positions of counseling, teaching or ministering to others need to be careful.  Oftentimes their subjects will be emotionally immature or broken and can mistake actions or words differently than planned.  Human interaction is delicate.

Until about 3 pm yesterday, I'm thinking this a good thing to do, see the world from another's perspective.  Then I'm faced with a "traffic gesture" in response to my accidentally turning up a one way street in Raleigh.  Okay, not the most shining moment of my driving career, but I managed to keep a cool head with four lanes of cars speeding toward me, and I actually calmly accelerated toward them because I knew I had to proceed another 500 feet forward to duck into a parking lot.  (God's work.)  

So, I'm conflicted with the shoes of my brother living.  The "hand movement" guy was also the guy who alerted me to the fact that I'm headed the wrong way.  I'm thinking, thanks, buddy, for flashing your lights.  You're a big help.  And, in the next instant I'm thinking, hey, I made a mistake, and I got out of it without messing anyone's day, why give me the "signal?"

Humans are complex, and encounters with them are complex to the power of 100.  In the old days I would run away, hide and stay out of intimacy's way.  That's not a way to live for God's creatures.  We all need and crave human interaction, that's why the worst punishment is solitary confinement.  That's why churches have small groups, so no one gets lost in the congregation.  You are known, you are loved, you are safe.  It's not always easy or trial-free, but you can be authentic in your group.  You can have human interaction and regardless of what happens, you know you'll be okay.  God takes care of it.

Which leads me back to the shoes.  And, I think this will be ongoing...       

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