I believe in putting myself in another person’s shoes. I was a young junior high student, living in Michigan, when my Father presented me with a paperback copy of To Kill a Mockingbird by Harper Lee. My Dad, who was a lawyer, somehow knew I might become lawyer, and thought I would enjoy the story of Atticus Finch and his children Jem and Scout.
The lesson learned from the novel and the film version starring Gregory Peck, forever changed my life. Atticus Finch spent some time talking to his daughter after a playground scuffle, he wisely told her that “you never really know what another person is like until you put yourself in his or her shoes and walk around in them for a while.”
That single line from Harper Lee’s novel, has been a guide for my life. Having empathy or putting myself in another’s shoes has enabled me to forge and keep life long relationships with my family, friends and fellow colleagues in the legal profession.
My Dad died of Alzheimer’s in 2005. As my Mom cared for him, and I provided peripheral support to my Mom, I kept repeating to myself, “if I were in Dad’s shoes how would I want to be treated?” I realized then that any help I gave to him would need to be given with dignity and respect. As I helped my Dad get to his Doctor’s appointments, or sat with him at the Alzheimer’s facility, I told myself that if I were in his shoes, and if I could recall, I would appreciate knowing that my loved ones were there, observing my care, and focusing on my safety and security.
In the peaks and valleys of friendship, by showing empathy for my friends’ “lot in life”, I have kept friendships over many years. Even if I have a falling out with a friend, I make every effort to look at a situation from their point of view, and to try and make amends. By placing myself in a friend’s shoes, I am able to come to a place of acceptance, acceptance of their lack of communication because they are caring for a sick parent, acceptance of their rescheduling of a lunch date because it is their “busy season” in their job or profession.
As a lawyer, I think Atticus advice to Scout, is great advice for members of the legal profession. By placing myself in my client’s shoes, I am able to better understand their legal issues, and what help I can give. I can better understand, that perhaps their clients aren’t paying, that perhaps they haven’t returned a phone call because they had an emergency hearing, that perhaps they have a sick spouse or child, and they simply weren’t able to send an overdue email.
Yes, I believe that placing myself in another’s shoes makes all the difference in my life and the lives of others I touch. My 13 year old son Michael will be reading Mockingbird for the first time this year. I hope the book inspires him as it has me. But even it it doesn’t, I hope Atticus’s message to Scout will give him pause, to stop and think about placing himself in another’s shoes. Then he will be able to know the peace and understanding in all kinds of life long relationships with family, friends and workplace colleagues. This I believe.
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