I Want to Walk in Your Shoes


I have had a long career and a wonderful life that I look back on with joy. There are a few exceptions and most of those are the times I could not find it in myself to walk in the other person’s shoes before passing judgment. I excused my behavior as putting the mission before individual needs, including family needs, when in reality it was poor communication and a lack of trust.

As both a staff member and a leader I have been a horrible judge of how much time it takes to do a task. I’m not any better with home repairs. If you ask me how long it will take to paint my home office I imagine I can do it in one day. Having painted many rooms I know I can’t do it in a single day, but none the less my mind tells me I can.

One day our office was preparing a briefing for the White House. As the Assistant Secretary and staff worked on the brief I reminded them how much time we needed to print and collate the required copies. As they passed the last possible minute we could get it printed on time and leave adequate time for them to get in the car and make the trip to the White House I was stressed. A copier doesn’t work faster because the presentation is going to the White House and neither can a person. The Assistant Secretary was so angry that it wasn’t completed when he needed it that he threw his briefcase, but that also didn’t make the copier work any faster. It is a common failing of highly motivated and highly successful people to think the world revolves around their expectations and needs. It doesn’t.

In academia, the stakes are much lower, but the passions are just as high.  How many classes can a faculty member successfully teach and how many papers can be carefully graded in a normal work week? Is it more work to grade a graduate or an undergraduate paper? How many grants can be written and how many papers published? How much time does committee work actually take? How much time does it take to grade the work of a student after a nursing clinical and how early must the faculty member be at the clinical site before the students arrive so everything is ready for a seamless day? How much time is actually spent on research with and without a graduate research assistant?  And then there is all of the unaccounted for time of mentoring, advising, writing letters for jobs for former students, and being active in professional organizations. But work isn’t all that a person must do. My experience is that everyone is working hard and maybe even too hard. It is an American characteristic.

All people have things they need and want to do that are not related to work. Each person has tasks of self-care such as dental and medical appoints. There is the task we all hate but must do such as getting vehicle inspections and anything to do with the DMV.  Moms and dads must care for sick children and even attend the extracurricular activities of those children. Who hasn’t had to be home to sign for a package or wait on the plumber? We all will eventually have to attend a funeral. These are all tasks of life and they are not optional. A well-rounded person must do these things and a productive employee should be supported when doing them. Why do we judge them?

Judgment is not new. Consider that at the time of Jesus they were writing about the Father judging no one I assume that the message is that we have done it throughout history and it has always been an undesirable behavior.

22 Moreover, the Father judges no one, but has entrusted all judgment to the Son,23 that all may honor the Son just as they honor the Father. John 5:22-23

I know my inability to see the perspective of the other did not end at the office and I doubt I’m alone. How often do we try to walk in the shoes of our spouses, parents, or children?  How often do we try to understand the store clerk whose line is slow or the driver who makes a mistake or the person that doesn’t understand stand right and walk left on the metro escalator? How often do people try to understand issues of equality without trying to justify the current norm?

Ultimately to walk in the shoes of the other person we must be willing to trust the person is working as hard as we are, cares as much as we do, and has intentions that are honorable. We must see the other person as equal and deserving of respect.

I’m finally at the point in my career and my life that I would rather trust a person than find fault. I would rather underwrite the mistakes of others than limit them and me with my judgment.

See each person for what they bring to the table and not what you would bring if you were them.

 

 

 

 

 

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.