The objective of this lesson is to share insights as to how we can make “love your neighbour as yourself” become a reality and a feature of how we relate to others.
I suggest that one essential and sufficient component of our quest to love our neighbour as ourselves is the need to consistently place ourselves in the shoes of others.
I invite you to reflect on whether someone who consistently appreciates the circumstances surrounding the actions and mindset of others is not ideally placed to be more considerate towards them.
On the other hand, is it not reasonable to conclude that someone who seldom sees things from the perspective of others is more prone to be engaged in conflicts and to be challenged by requests for empathy?
I want to highlight three sets of dangers that hang over our heads when we fail to “live” in the shoes of others.
One of the goals of our socialization is to get us to feel good about ourselves.
That process has the side effect of inviting comparisons with others.
That is the first danger we face when we are not able to put ourselves in the shoe of others. We run the risk of getting caught in the trap of comparison.
Remember that our traditional socialization seeks to position us in a favourable light.
This often means that we are more likely to view others less favourably. We might be led to think that if we dim their light ours may appear brighter.
This, however, runs counter to the Scriptures which commands us to esteem others better than ourselves. (Ph 2:3)
Sometimes when we compare we fall short. We do not always come out feeling that we are better off than others.
When that happens too often we might be driven to question our own self worth.
The tendency towards comparison opens up risks to our Christian walk.
When we perceive that others are more favourably placed than we are, we open the door to the fatal sins of covetousness and envy.
Our socialization strongly encourages us to be ambitious. In satisfying our ambition we face the ever present danger of falling prey to envy and covetousness.
What about the other end of the spectrum?
What happens when we weigh ourselves in the balance and come away with the sense that we have the advantage?
A sense of feeling better off than others has as a constant companion the risk of being proud. Pride has been identified as one of the deadly sins and the Bible is a strong advocate of humility.
What then of this living in the shoes of others concept?
The starting point is the recognition that as humans, we are not in total control over our circumstances. Our actions do impact how life unfolds for us but we are also subjected to influences outside of our control.
We appreciate and accept that the shoe that someone else is standing in is not entirely of their design and construction. We also note that but for the grace of God, those very shoes could be ours.
Do not imagine it to be unthinkable that you could find yourself in the situation in which some people find themselves. Life is a great leveller. The unthinkable can become our reality without notice and despite our protestations.
So we proceed from the foundation of the recognition that the shoe in which we stand is not necessarily of our design and creation.
From that foundation we can learn to see people where they are and to respect their position. We also arrive at a place where we recognize that there is no need for comparison.
If your shoes could be mine and mine yours of what value is to me to compare?
I learn to come to a perspective of life which understands that the shoes that I am in are not entirely of my own creation but these are the ones I am required to wear. They are mine. I had better learn to be comfortable in them.
Fixating on how much more or less attractive and comforting other shoes are is not particularly helpful. That thinking is not going to change mine.
The second danger of failing to consistently live in the shoes of others is that comparison has a tendency to encourage competition.
The nature of competition is that it involves opposing sides. Further, the objective of a competition is that one side will defeat the other side. Victors emerge from competitions. There is the joy of victory and the agony of defeat.
Consider going through the socially required comparison with the neighbour next door. Once again, they come out ahead of you in your evaluation.
Your socialization coaching yells at you that you are betraying a lack of ambition and a defeatist attitude when you continue to let the balance be tipped in the favour of your neighbour.
Wake up and show some spunk!
Responding to the strident and persistent coaching you reflect on your neighbour. You blame yourself for helping to create the imbalance because you have always been so supportive and willing to help.
That has to stop!
No more offers of help. You are on your own neighbour. In fact, I now fully recognize you as my opponent.
That is the very real danger that comparison invites.
What about the neighbour on the other side?
Truth is I have been putting out a lot to help him through difficult times. But with my new understanding of the fact that we are in fact competitors and opponents, I fear that it is only a matter of time before he catches up with me and passes me…………. with my help!
Sorry neighbour — er opponent, I can no longer be as receptive to your call for help. I have challenges of my own. I am so far back in this competition that I have to start paying attention to catching up.
I just can’t afford to channel my time and my resources to address your needs.
You could see from this how variations of the Parable of the Good Samaritan could play out itself with this mindset.
The scary truth is that this mindset is prevalent and attends to our own personal doors more than we would like to admit.
It is cleverly disguised and is not manifested to us in this unvarnished state. But be not fooled, some element of fallout from comparison and competitiveness is at play in our lives.
The socialization is so deeply ingrained that it is difficult to totally root out the competitive instinct. Indeed, the NEED to be competitive is reinforced daily.
We can see then that a logical extension of comparison with others can quickly lead to feeling a need to be victorious over them. The world loves winners. We all crave being in the winners circle.
This mindset if left unchecked can produce serious challenges to Christian living. In our worldly thinking, those that we believe come out better than us in the comparison need to be brought down.
Those who are worse off need to be kept down.
With that mindset, the thought of providing assistance in a time of need is alien.
It is great that high riders are brought low. Let them look to their own kind to rescue them.
They do not need my help.
If they are lower down on the rung, then we really do not want to get caught up in their misery. We are past that and want to move on.
Either way, the misadventure of others gives us a competitive advantage. It gives us a higher place in the competition.
From this we can more readily understand some of the mindset that underpins the Parable of the Good Samaritan.
It builds on the philosophy of a Scarcity mentality. A belief that there is just not enough to go around and so the more I can prevent others from getting the more will be available to me.
The provision of manna and the exposure of those with a scarcity mentality reinforces the weakness of this philosophy.
Lack of Understanding
The third set of dangers arising from the failure to live in the shoes of others is the fact that it discourages longsuffering and forgiveness.
When we put ourselves in someone’s shoes, we come to a deeper understanding of what is going through their minds. We come to appreciate the factors that are influencing their thinking. We have a sense of how they may have been prompted to act.
From the perspective of their shoes, we have a better handle on how events unfolded and we are positioned to respond appropriately.
One immense advantage of ensuring that we are in the shoes of others before we respond is that it gives us cause to pause.
An emotional reaction is triggered when an incident takes place. This is a raw gut reaction to stimuli.
We sense that we have been insulted so we react be sending out an even more caustic insult.
The call of the renewed mind is to quickly step in the shoes of the insulting party. Come to appreciate the circumstances that led to the incident.
That process provides us with precious cooling off seconds. We are now no longer being driven by fickle and dangerous emotions but by rational thinking.
That simple pause that shifts the game from emotional gut reaction to thoughtful reasoned response makes a huge difference in being Christ-like as it relates to longsuffering and forgiveness.
One feature of the old man that must be mercilessly slain is the tendency to be led by our emotions. An indication of our level of maturity is the extent to which we are driven by our emotions instead of being guided by the Scriptures to respond appropriately.
Impatience aside, there is also the challenge of un-forgiveness.
If we can fathom why someone behaves as they did, we are better placed to be understanding and to forgive them.
This is especially true if we recall that shoes may move among people. Your shoes today might be mine tomorrow.
So, what is the conclusion of this matter?
Empathy or living in the shoes of others is the bedrock on which loving others as you love yourself is grounded.
We must bear each other’s burden and be united in a common cause (Gal 6:2). That is the very opposite of the spirit of competitiveness where each one seeks their own good – totally ignoring the needs of others.
We must be patient with others and forgive them they way that God forgives us. (Col.3:13)
Philippians 2 Therefore if you have any encouragement from being united with Christ, if any comfort from his love, if any common sharing in the Spirit, if any tenderness and compassion, 2 then make my joy complete by being like-minded, having the same love, being one in spirit and of one mind. 3 Do nothing out of selfish ambition or vain conceit. Rather, in humility value others above yourselves, 4 not looking to your own interests but each of you to the interests of the others.
The bottom line is that when we fail to live in the shoes of others we set off a C chain:
We Compare, We Compete and we are quick to Condemn.
From the shoes of others, we replace Comparison with Celebration or Commiseration.
We no longer Compete instead we Cooperate.
Instead of swift Condemnation we Comfort or Correct.