Empathy is the capacity to understand or feel what another person is experiencing from within their frame of reference, that is, the capacity to place oneself in another’s position.
We explain empathy to children with the phrase “putting yourself in someone else’s shoes”.
I have not worn shoes very much in the last 10 days because I have been at home, staying safe. The shoes I have put on are trainers to go for a walk locally or wellies to get out in the countryside. I love shoes, and have cupboards of them, for all occasions. But I prefer most to be barefoot or in a pair of flip flops. I fear my shoes are going to become dust collectors under quarantine.
Who am I empathising with as I sit at home, in my pyjamas, drinking my coffee and staying safe?
My restless thoughts that woke me at 4am this morning are with the vulnerable and with our key workers who are on the front line:
Black leather school shoes – for children around the country their school shoes will be strewn in the hallway or on a bedroom floor for the next few months. I wonder if they will still fit when schools reopen?
White surgical shoes – for doctors, nurses and other health professionals, their white clogs will be pacing the corridors over the coming months, as they struggle to save lives, their soles will slowly be worn down as their step count goes up on back to back shifts. I imagine some will be sleeping in them as they pass out on a break.
Black work boots – for the police, the ambulance service, the fire service and other emergency response services, it is business is as usual, as they fight to keep everyone safe, they will be donning their uniform each shift to keep civic order.
Slippers – for many elderly they are trapped at home, or in a care home. A friend is volunteering with Age UK as they have put a call out for volunteers and donations to support the most vulnerable during this crisis. We were already a nation trying to combat loneliness, this will be compounded by enforced social isolation?
Baby’s boots – for new parents or expectant parents this is a scary time to be raising young children or bringing babies in to the world, how will this affect the development of children in homes where the remote learning will not be a priority?
Trainers – for our mental health and well-being sports stores have been left open, signposted as essential resources, as the nation invests in home gyms and sports wear to get active once a day, I wonder if these new habits will stay?
Wellies – for many parents and carers confronted with the reality of spending all day, every day with their children, and now being responsible for home schooling them, the great outdoors has just become our classroom, a new learning environment. My personal social media shows my friends with kids taking them on hikes to get them outside and keep them busy and active. I empathise with those families with no green space to access.
There are many shoes I have missed, of many people who are going above and beyond in the current climate.
Whatever shoes you are wearing today, tomorrow, this week, this month – remember, and remind others, to keep putting yourself in other people’s shoes. We are all struggling to come to terms with the new reality. It is likely to get worse before it gets better as the death toll rapidly creeps up.
My thoughts turn to profound art installations using shoes as poignant symbols that I have seen on my travels or read about in the last few years. Shoes by rivers, climbing up tower blocks, exiting public institutions, representing human loss, grief and trauma.
If you are at home, not wearing shoes, consider who’s shoes you could be in right now and how they are feeling.