By Cortney Donelson
Matthew 7:2 (NLT)
“For you will be treated as you treat others. The standard you use in judging is the standard by which you will be judged.”
There is a very famous and well-intentioned saying out there. This quote has been around for generations. In fact, it is such a long-standing adage that no one quite knows for sure who first said it, although many give credit to the Native Americans. “To understand a man, you must first walk a mile in his moccasins”. Moccasins was later changed to shoes.
This popular quote even influenced the writing of a similar line in a famous book. “You never really understand a person until you consider things from his point of view – until you climb into his skin and walk around in it,” was spoken by Atticus Finch in To Kill a Mockingbird, by Harper Lee.
As I said, the message is well-intentioned. I grew up learning this very lesson. It does deter some criticism and helps people see some things from a different perspective. Frequently, I will put myself in another person’s “shoes” to try to understand the decisions he or she made or the actions they took. And, guess what? It often gets me into trouble…
God created us uniquely. We each have our own personalities, experiences, thoughts, biases, views of right and wrong, and temperaments. We value different things. We have different tastes. We see the world through our eyes only. And, thank God we do! Our differences help us think creatively, avoid boredom, and develop innovative solutions. I value our differences…God cherishes them.
The phrase “to walk in another’s shoes” means to step outside your own perspective and look at a situation from someone else’s perspective. Unfortunately, if we do this, there is the possibility for us to make a dangerous assumption. Each person is shaped by his and her experiences and personalities, from the day he or she is born. Our opinions, our tendencies, our perspectives, and our decisions are steered by our entire life story. When we “walk in another’s shoes”, we are viewing one specific situation or decision that individual has made. And, we are looking at that decision through our lenses, with our backgrounds, our successes, our hurts, and our failures all influencing our opinion of that one circumstance. I believe this can lead us down the path of judgment because our assumption is that someone else’s life story should have shaped that individual the same way we were influenced by our own. That is the assumption I know I, for one, need to avoid!
It is precisely because of our diversity that I think the quote below is much more significant and can have a greater impact on our lives:
“We can never judge the lives of others, because each person knows only their own pain and renunciation. It’s one thing to feel that you are on the right path, but it’s another to think that yours is the only path.” -Paulo Coelho
I contend we can never truly climb into someone’s skin, step into their shoes, and know all of who they are or what makes them tick. We live in our own realities, shaped by years of unique experiences and our one-of-a-kind DNA. To try to step into someone else’s reality can often cause misunderstandings that can lead to increased conflict and pain. I know…I’ve been there.
By no means am I saying that trying to understand another’s perspective is wrong! It is good! Extremely good! I think where we mistep is when we add our own judgments to those perspectives without giving credit to the fact that we cannot fully know another’s world. So I, for one, am going to work on agreeing to disagree without thinking someone is wrong just because I put myself in her shoes and did not see something the way she did or understood her actions or behavior.
Biblically, we are advised to avoid judging others. And, if we do judge someone else, according to Matthew 7:2, God will judge us using the same standard. As I thought about this verse and its relationship to that famous adage, I realized that I cannot judge someone’s motives fairly. I certainly don’t want my motives, actions, and decisions to be judged against God, who is good, perfect, and holy. I would fail every time. So, no matter what people say or do, I cannot truly understand their perspectives just by “walking a mile in their shoes”. I would have to walk a million miles, over the course of their entire lifetime. I don’t know about you, but I just don’t have the shoes for that….
Prayer – Father, thank you for the hard but loving truths in your Word. Thank you for our diversity. I pray I refrain from judging someone’s actions or words based on my own unique reality for I would never want to be judged by that standard myself. Jesus died for us so that the chasm separating us from God could be bridged. And, for that, I am forever grateful. In Jesus’ Name, Amen!