I love shoes – flats, sneakers, sandals, boots – really any kind. Shoes are an important accessory which I use to define my style. I try to have a pair of shoes for every occasion, including cancer!
Empathy is the ability to put yourself in the shoe’s of the person you are trying to connect with. It’s the old adage that you cannot really understand someone until you’ve walked a mile in their shoes.
The other day, I had an unexpected moment of empathy. I was having a really rough couple of days – adjusting to radiation, pain meds, and feeling depressed. I just couldn’t keep it together. So, when I sat down with my radiation oncologist for my weekly check-up, I let it all out. She’s fairly conservative, young and always put together. I looked her in the eye and told her, “I just want to be like you. I want to get dressed and go to work everyday and be myself.” At that moment, I noticed something I’m not sure I’ve ever seen in a doctor’s office – her eyes welled up and she was holding back tears. At that moment, she was slipping on my sparkly Sperrys and seeing the world through my eyes. Of course, that pushed my empathy button – it would have been interesting to take a walk in her Tory Burch wedges.
If you are going to be empathetic, please be consistent. As the recipient of empathy, I often find that people show empathy on their own terms – not every shoe is comfortable (I wish I could wear sassy heels!) and, therefore, many shy away from the discomfort by walking away in their own broken-in shoes. It is easier to put on the comfy red sneak, but when things get challenging, it can be tough to try on the pointy-toed heel. While cancer doesn’t excuse bad behavior, often times I can be more angry, moody and sensitive than I usually am (and I am usually a lot of all those things!). I might piss you off, but it’s not about you. It sucks, but I’d appreciate it if you didn’t hold these things against me and withhold your empathy. Try that uncomfortable shoe for a little while and you will understand. Don’t be afraid.
P.S. Of course, we live in America where you can actually buy empathy. Artist Emily McDowell has created a line of empathy cards for the occasions when you’re not sure which shoe to choose.