We all know the saying “walk a mile in my shoes” and we all know that this means we should empathize with one another. But this knowledge is where empathy ends for us most times. Its not for lack of trying, its simply because of the way we are as people.
I emphasize the last bit here because all too often we read critiques and admonishments that essentially scold us for not being better people. But in reality the way you act and perceive the world is far more influenced by your genetics that we like to believe.
See, my dear reader, you are a great mishmash of hundreds of thousands of years of random mating. Note here that I said random, but its not actually truly random. Instead, your ancestors are most likely the coolest, safest, and most risk averse humans that lived long enough to mate.
And one the features that likely helped our ancestors reach the genetic pool is making quick judgements. For example, ape man 1 meets ape man 2 in the jungle. Ape man 1 must quickly figure our if ape man 2 is a threat and vice versa. And because Ape man 1 was of the species Home sapiens while ape man 2 was a Cro-Magnon, Ape man 1 made a faster decision and survived the battle.
Ok so this is a little tongue in cheek but one of the first species cleansings in history was actually Homo sapiens exterminating the Cro-Magnons. I’m serious here, its crazy to think about this.
But in today’s highly advanced society where we are vastly removed from our ancestral way of life, the snap judgement is actually a hindrance – one that leads to reduced social status, reduced relationships, and generally a poorer life.
Now today I want to share with you an “Aha” moment that I had while biking. One that showed me yet again that I could do better a better job putting myself in other people’s shoes.
So to begin lets introduce a new character. Her name is Millennial Rosie. Millennial Rosie is the Handy Millennial’s girlfriend and he is very lucky to have her. This past summer, the Handy Millennial and Millennial Rosie decided to buy some bikes both because they became more interested in their fitness and because biking is the generally
an allowed easier to do in an urban environment than some other hobbies.
Now being handy, and personal finance enthusiasts, the Handy couple did not splurge on the usual $2,000 bike. Instead the Handy Millennial ventured to his parents house and retrieved the bike that he has used in high school. Now this bike was given to the Handy Millennial for free and is a classy 1978 Schwinn Super Le Tour. Yup, Super is actually in the name of the bike.
Millennial Rosie was not so lucky to have her high school bike, but she procured a vintage Schwinn World Traveler circa 1980. And with these two bikes romantic thoughts of afternoons on the local trails started swirling in our heads. We pictured something like this:
The trouble with this image is that his bike looks something like this:
26 pounds of pure racing muscle that puts you in the racing position like a sprinter ready to burst out of the starting block.
Her bike looks something like this:
38 pounds of laid back leisure with a cute little basket to carry flowers from the meadow. Just looking at this bike makes you think of leisure:
Now I’m sure those of you that are experienced bikers are already chuckling in your heads. But on our very first trip out together it quickly became obvious that it is difficult to actually bike near each other with these two bikes. Why? Well it seemed like Millennial Rosie was just going to take her good old time, while the Handy Millennial was hell bent on racing to the end of the trail.
And because the Handy couple is somewhat competitive, this led to a couple heated discussions. We agreed to bike at our own speed, and for the most part this solved the problem. But the differences persisted. In fact a few weeks later Millennial Rosie even casually stated that biking is not such a great form of exercise. You can image how Mr. Sprinting Biker felt about that one.
Fast forward to today. The Handy Millennial was leaving for a casual 15-20 mile bike ride. But one block from home his gears suddenly scrambled and his rear derailleur folded in on itself. Another handy task for another day…
Not to precluded from his exercise, the Handy Millennial grabbed Rosie’s bike and ventured out for some exercise.
But as the ride wore on, the Handy Millennial started recognizing the difference between the two types of bikes. Today, riding the World Travel, the Handy Millennial was relaxed. He was more upright, more at easy, and the extra 10 lbs of frame weight cushioned the bumps on the road.
As much as the Handy Millennial tried, the bike just put him naturally at ease and slowed his speed. While his normal cruising speed might be around 15 mph, on the world traveler it was a mere 10 mph. The bike was also more difficult to steer because of the curved handle bars. This meant that more attention had to be paid throughout the whole ride
So by the end of the ride I had come to realize that it isn’t Millennial Rosie’s fault that she is slower. Quite simply the different stature of the bikes encourages a different outlook on the ride itself! Hard as we may try, it will just be difficult to ride these two machines in unison together.
What is interesting about this experience is that the Handy Millennial left home thinking that he knew how Rosie felt and how her bike handled. But he came home KNOWING exactly what this bike was like. And that my dear readers is what I hope to convey to you today: despite what you know, you will never truly understand another person until you bike a mile in their shoes.
I think that this is thought we should keep closer to our hearts every day. I leave you now with one of my favorite quotes – attributed to Ian Maclaren: “Be kind, for everyone you meet is fighting a hard battle.”