Someone else’s shoes

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I find myself giving less credence to people who have Velcro rather than laces on their shoes.

This could be the most ridiculous thought that has ever gone through my head. The man who was helping me pick out fertilizer seemed knowledgeable enough, yet here I was, standing in the store, judging him based on his shoes. Me, who knows absolutely nothing about lawn fertilizer, standing in my Nike Air sneakers and he who knows much about lawn fertilizer standing in his Velcro sneakers.

I’m admitting this, humbly, and with great embarrassment. I start to remember the people I know who have shoes with Velcro: My niece and nephew who cannot yet tie laces and my father who is unable to reach down and grab hold of laces.

I’m embarrassed to have such thoughts. It leads me down another path of my other biases. Some are obvious and are well-known to me. But as I begin to delve deep, I have other, lesser obvious biases that I realize hover under the surface of my consciousness, clouding my perception of people.

I’m embarrassed to write this blog, and yet here I am baring my horrible thoughts about this kind man in Velcro shoes. Why? Because we all have our biases and until we can learn from them we will continue to be divided through our judgment.

The shoes have obviously been worn well, and it’s possible he may not have had a lot of money for the newest pair of Nike Air. It is also a possibility he was looking for the convenience of something simple like my dad. Yet here I am judging him based on his choice or even the possibility of his lack of choice.

I realize we all have biases: some we are aware of and others of which we are unconscious. My example of bias was completely ridiculous, and I am embarrassed by that fact. Other biases can be hypocritical; mean-spirited; founded in inaccuracies; based on prejudices handed down from our parents; or even based on our own insecurities.

Are you biased about someone who is overweight because of the health risks associated with being obese while you sit there drinking your diet soda which is laden with artificial sweeteners, phosphoric acid, preservatives, and artificial colors? Are you criticizing a smoker while sipping on a Starbucks caramel macchiato with 33 grams of sugar? Maybe not quite the same in each instance but both choices unhealthy. It’s difficult to point the finger and say, “Well, yours is MORE unhealthy than mine.”

Biases are shaped by our cultures and experiences and can be conscious or unconscious. They affect the way we view our world and the way make our decisions – often without us even knowing while others are fully intentional!

Bias can happen anywhere: work, school, church, and even while out and about. It can happen with any aspect of life: Gender bias, educational bias, religious bias, racial bias, and, apparently, even sneaker bias

Biases cloud our judgment and change the way we treat people. We treat people differently based on our biases like avoiding eye contact or the way we speak to another human.

Here’s a great example: many of us view the homeless a certain way, yet in mid-May, a homeless man was lauded as a hero for saving teens after the bombing in Manchester at an Ariana Grande concert. One minute, most people wouldn’t give this man the time of day let alone spare change, the next minute they have fund-raisers for him.

Looking at my own example of bias, I realize I have no idea of why this man is wearing these shoes. My own father has a bachelor’s degree in agronomy, can still say most plant names in Latin and wears Velcro shoes because two hip surgeries and a back surgery after years of working on the family farm have made it difficult for him to bend down and tie his shoes. He can no longer wear his beloved cowboy boots, so he is forced to wear Velcro sneakers.

I have no idea why this kind gentleman selling me fertilizer with his bright blue eyes and sweet smile is wearing Velcro shoes. Maybe they’re comfortable to wear on concrete floors. Maybe he likes the convenience of the Velcro. Maybe after years of work, the stock market crash forced him to continue working past retirement. The truth of the matter is I don’t know, and it shouldn’t matter.

But here’s the lesson I have learned on this summer morning, speaking with this man: We would all be better people if we were aware of our biases and could put those biases aside knowing that we can’t judge others until we’ve walked a mile in their shoes.

3 Comments

  1. Clarissa Whitehead says:

    You are so right, Amy….we all have our biases in one way or another. I won’t lie….I know I do and I am ashamed. Will try to do better!

  2. Karen Davis says:

    Love it Amy and agree with you wholeheartedly! In that spirit I have to confess my bias against Nike tennis shoes for a list of reasons I can’t even back-up.

    I like the way you’ve taken a small example and challenged people to go farther and consider the bias’ they have that are far more divisive than shoes.

  3. Sue says:

    What a great reminder for all of us.

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