Job Requirement: Walk A Mile In My Shoes

We humans … all of us … have built-in defense mechanisms that allow us to tune out certain things.  If you walk frequently in a city, you have likely learned to tune out the homeless person sitting against a building, hoping someone will stop and offer him a meal.  When we pick up our child at school, we rarely notice that tall kid with the holes in his shoes, or the skinny child whose clothes are two sizes too big, or the child being pushed to the bus in a wheelchair.  We become inured to things that would bother us, would disturb our vision of the world we live in, perhaps even give us a twinge of guilt for our own well-being relative to others.

Most of our politicians today are wealthy by almost any standards and have always been so.  They do not notice us … until election day.  And if they don’t notice us, have never spent time with a family mired in poverty, or a person suffering from the effects of AIDS, or a homeless mother and her children living in their car, then they don’t understand the problems of those people.  How could they?

Imagine if, in order to have his or her name on the ballot, a candidate running for Congress had to spend one month living in subsidized housing, living on nothing more than food stamp benefits, a small stipend for non-food items, and not much more to survive on for that month, with zero access to their own wealth or family.  Or imagine if that candidate had to spend 10 hours of every day for a month volunteering in a homeless shelter, food pantry or soup kitchen.  Might it open their eyes and give them a sense of empathy for what the people of their country go through on a daily basis?

Politicians have no idea what life is like for the poor in this nation, and that lack of understanding leads them to make decisions that are in the better interests of the wealthy than the average Joe.  I have long said they all … in both parties and with few exceptions … live in ivory towers far above the madding crowd and have zero understanding of what it’s like to have to live on a tight budget, to serve rice 5 nights a week and maybe chicken once a week for a treat.  They have no comprehension of what it’s like to have to choose between paying the electric bill or taking your asthmatic child to the doctor for a much-needed checkup; between buying food or insulin.

Before astronauts fly into space, they spend days inside of simulators to gain an understanding of what their journey will be like.  But most members of Congress are far removed from the people they represent and have only read about their trials and tribulations, never experienced them first-hand, not even for a day.  Airline pilots receive thousands of hours of training before they are allowed to fly a plane full of a hundred or so passengers, but members of Congress who are responsible for making decisions that affect 330 million lives receive almost no training.  Most members of Congress hold a law degree, not a degree in social work, and in recent years the people have elected members of Congress who didn’t even finish high school!

There’s a saying – walk a mile in my shoes – that seems apropos here.  Granted, no one person can experience all the hardships people go through, but if they lived a month in the life of those less fortunate, might it open their eyes a little?  Might it give them a level of empathy that few have when they first take that oath of office?  And might it weed out those who have no stomach for even a month without the trappings of luxury to which they are so accustomed?   Might it make them more interested in funding those things that help people live better lives rather than space exploration that provides no benefit, or military hardware that destroys lives?  Might it change their priorities just a bit?

40 thoughts on “Job Requirement: Walk A Mile In My Shoes

  1. Pingback: Job Requirement: Walk A Mile In My Shoes – Our Education

  2. Ten years ago, I would have said that yes, walking a mile in another’s shoes would lead to empathy. Now? Not so much. You have to be capable of empathy to feel empathy, and so many of the most powerful got to be that way because they /lack/ empathy. It’s hard to be ruthless when you can imagine the hardship your decisions will cause. If you lack that ability then being ruthless is easy.
    I believe that most of those who aspire to great office actually lack the empathy to learn from the lived experience of others. Worse still, they don’t care.
    These days I see humans as almost two species – those with empathy and those without. 😦

    Liked by 1 person

    • Perhaps you are right, my friend. I still, however, like to believe that most people are capable of empathy, they just let personal greed, helped along by television and internet ads, cloud their vision. But, when talking about seasoned politicians, you probably ARE right, for they have walked the path of wealth, corruption, greed, and arrogance for long enough that their ability to empathise, to actually care, has been buried.

      Like you, I have often thought that the human species is comprised of two separate sub-species, for people like you and I have literally nothing other than physical characteristics in common with those who would trample humanity to make a dollar. Sigh.

      Liked by 1 person

      • The divide between us and ‘them’ is probably not as stark as I made out. With most things, there’s a continuum from one extreme to the other, but it definitely feels as if there’s more of the non-carers around these days. Or perhaps they’ve simply come out of the shadows.
        Back in the day, gamers used to call us ‘Care Bears’…as a derogatory term because they saw us as weak and ineffective. A lot of those gamers have grown up in the 20 odd years since then. Somehow I don’t think they’ve changed. 😦

        Liked by 1 person

        • You are absolutely right … it does feel that there are fewer people with empathy and compassion these days, at least here in the U.S. Money seems to be at the forefront of their minds, and they tend to think that those who need a leg up must have done something to cause themselves to be in their situation and don’t deserve empathy. I’ve long said that they were hiding under rocks until Trump told them it was okay to come out, and now they’ve grown fat and won’t fit back under the rocks. Oh yes … I remember that term … and there was another, but I cannot think of it right off hand. The one I’ve been called most was “bleeding heart liberal” and “snowflake”. I just laugh. Sigh.

          Liked by 1 person

  3. In the UK, it would be a start if our politicians were forced to exist on their generous annual salary of £84,144, without the benefit of additional expenses. As most UK politicians claim (on average) around £204,000 a year in expenses, they don’t even have to spend their salaries. Add to that the fact that 78% of all Members of Parliament are millionaires in their own right, and our Prime Minister (together with his wife) is estimated to be worth £730,000,000, then they should be ashamed to take any salary at all.
    Best wishes, Pete.

    Liked by 2 people

    • ‘Tis almost exactly the same here! We pay them a more-than-generous salary, more than 3 times the average salary in the nation, PLUS pay all their travel, some of their meals, and more. Yet they say we cannot afford to feed the poor or provide housing for the homeless.

      Liked by 2 people

  4. Oh, this is a familiar thought to me!

    It works in other contexts as well: Employers should have to be secretaries, gophers, laborers first ~ anonymously, so they don’t get white glove treatment.

    Graduating students required to spend a month as an Indian peasant.

    And ~ whatever happened to the “Scared Straight” program which was so good at keeping people out of prison?…

    Liked by 1 person

  5. Well said Jill. There have been poliicians in the UK who have had a go at living in poverty – usually trailed by a TV crew for some reason – but only for a short time. Poverty only really bites when your clothes wear out, your white goods or car break down beyond repair. It is like hunger which only becomes starvation when the fat reserves are used up. That takes longer than most wealthy people will give it. Meanwhile they give advice such as buying food in bulk or eating turnips instead of salad veg which are currently in short supply here. Have you heard of Jack Munroe? She is now a chef but lived in dire poverty for a while, made her name with a blog about her struggles and now campaigns tirelessly.

    Liked by 2 people

    • You make a good point. Knowing they only have to deal with it all for a month and then life goes back to one of privilege is naught as compared with those who live with the daily knowledge that if their child gets sick, they will not have the money to take him to the doctor, or if the furnace breaks down, they won’t be able to get it fixed.

      No, I had not heard of Jack Munroe, but just now looked her up on Wikipedia. Wow … she has certainly overcome many obstacles, hasn’t she? She gets a thumbs-up from me. Sadly, not all are able to pull themselves up from poverty, but I applaud those who can and do. It just shouldn’t have to be so hard … our governments could do so much more to help people if they weren’t wasting so much money on things that have no value for most of us.

      Liked by 1 person

  6. There was a wonderful British MP called Terry Fields – he is retired now but I think he is still going – who in his life-before-politics was a fireman. On being elected, on his new “politician” salary, he continues to take what he would have earned as a fireman. The rest, he donated to his union.
    Good values, that’s good, but individual. Thinking more widely, we are all advanced nations. We all have statisticians who can tell us the average salary in our country, That value should be what politicians are paid.
    People would still want the job. Rishi Sunak (the UK’s new PM) was already a multimillionaire, yet wanted the job in any case. Why. if not for the kudos?

    Liked by 2 people

    • Wow … thumbs up to Terry Fields!!! That is amazing humanity … wouldn’t it be great if every politico around the globe did the same? Yeah, I know … dream on.

      The average salary in the U.S. is just over $53,000 (£ 44,000) and in the UK is £39,000 according to my quick research. Less than 1/3 what our members of Congress are paid, not including their expenses, which can more than double their salaries. If the majority of people can live on that, so should our politicos be able to. Might take some of the incentive away from those who are only interested in the job for their own personal reasons. Also … I don’t know about in the UK, but here in the U.S. 12% of the people, some 38 million people, live BELOW the poverty line. Seems to me that we have some really mixed up priorities here … And as for why Sunak, Boris and others wanted the job … power. Wealth and power seem to be the biggest drivers of people’s ambition. Since he already has the wealth, as do most of our politicians, that leaves power.

      Liked by 1 person

  7. And, because of this lack of empathy in the elected officials, and how these politicians are born into wealthy backgrounds, nobody will fully understand, the extent of the difficulties what those who are living at the bottom of the socioeconomic ladder live their lives are weathering through right now.

    Liked by 2 people

  8. Jill, we could start with three simple requirements and be better off even with rich legislators.
    – show up and do your job
    – try telling the truth more often
    – focus on facts and not your pocketbook

    Yet, I would agree we need people who know what it’s like to struggle. We also need to listen more to the few who have fought for our country on matters of defense. People who have never fought don’t fully understand risk exposure.


    Liked by 2 people

    • I wonder these days if they even realize what the truth is, or if they have become so immersed in lies and conspiracy theories that facts no longer matter to them. Yes, your three points are a good starting point … but I’m not holding my breath.


      • Definitely, don’t hold your breath, even for the so-called senior folks in Congress. I do not expect the truth from the usual crowd whom many could name top of mind, but also I take everything said by folks named McCarthy, Jordan, Crux, Graham, Paul, etc. with a grain of salt. Keith

        Liked by 1 person

  9. Sad to say, but considering the general quality of some of the folks that are elected to “serve the people,” I’m not sure it would change their priorities, Moreover, the view from their ivory towers don’t include the slum areas.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Thanks, Larry. This one has bothered me for a long time. How can we expect them to make the decisions that best serve our interests when they don’t understand our lives, have never been in our situations? I was homeless once, so I understand how hard it is to climb out of that hole! But does Mitch McConnell or Kevin McCarthy, both of whom have never missed a single meal?

      Liked by 1 person

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