We’ve all heard the adage, “You don’t know what someone’s been through until you’ve walked a mile in their shoes.” Well, on any given day at His Hands Free Clinic, we see quite the variety of shoes come through our doors. We serve patients in a variety of situations: single, married, divorced, parents, non-parents, employed, unemployed, self-employed, home owners, renters, homeless, US citizens, immigrants, young adults, middle aged, elderly-and those are just some of the general differences from the demographics page on our intake form. No two people have the exact same story, though we each have threads of similarities that connect us.
As for me, I’m a mother of two children who is about to get remarried. I’m employed full-time at His Hands Free Clinic, own my own home, was born and raised in Iowa, and the scale keeps tipping closer and closer to 40 years old than 30 (though I’m not 40 yet!). Does that mean that I am incapable of connecting with others who are different than me? Not in the least.
How do you connect with someone different than you or learn to see life from their perspective?
Find a Connection Point
I spend most of my days at the clinic talking to people, hearing their stories, and finding connection points between the two of us. Perhaps we are both moms, but she gave birth while in Africa. I can use that connection point of motherhood to then learn about what it was like for her to give birth in another country. Sometimes the connections are smaller, like someone comes in wearing a Hawkeyes hat. While I don’t follow sports, my son and fiancé both are Hawkeye fans. This connection point can be the starting grounds of conversation.
Acknowledge People Have Different Views
I grew up in small town Iowa. I didn’t see a lot of people who looked different than me. When I was out and about in public, everyone spoke English. I grew up in a conservative, Christian, two parent home. And so did most of my friends.
Then I got to college and my world began to expand a bit. I met people who had morals and ideas quite different than I grew up with. Having majors in sociology and psychology, I had professors and classmates who had different perspectives about how to tackle individual and social issues. Later, I began working in the nonprofit world.
Today, I am so very lucky to have the opportunity to spend my days with people from all different backgrounds and walks of life. I love it! I have learned so much from the men and women who have been my clients/patients over the years. And the more I learn, the more I realize I have more to learn. There is a whole globe out there filled with a vast array of lived experiences!
Step Into Their Shoes
There are a myriad of challenges and experiences our patients have faced that I never will. I will never know what it is like to be held at gunpoint in an attempt to get me to join a guerrilla army on my way to school in the morning. I grew up in a home free of drugs. I will never experience coming of age watching my role models using crack, meth, or other illicit substances. My parents and grandparents helped me financially during college. I worked at small, part-time job on the campus writing studio. Many of the patients I meet at the clinic who are pursuing further education are having to pay their own rent, books, utilities and food along the way.
These are just a few examples of challenges our patients have shared with me at the clinic. While I haven’t walked the same journey as them, giving them a listening ear can help me to see things from their perspective. This doesn’t mean that I necessarily always agree with their perspective, but it gives me insight. For example, a patient whose parents daily used narcotics at the expense of feeding their family may see weekend pot use while holding down a full time job as no big deal. I don’t personally agree with using any illegal substances, but it helps me to understand their thought process in normalizing marijuana use.
Share Truth in Love
There is a place for truth, but it can sometimes come off as judgmental and be off-putting. Usually, once people feel judged, they shut down. No one wants to be vulnerable and open if they feel looked down upon. Instead, I would say that we can follow Jesus’s example. He spent time sitting with regular, everyday people. I imagine over meals, he heard people open up about their lives and challenges. He didn’t shrink back to share the truth of what was best for people, but He did it in love and while treating them with dignity.
Ephesians 4:15 says, “Rather (previous verses referenced deceitful teachings), speaking the truth in love, we are to grow up in every way, into him who is the head, into Christ.” We are to spur one another on in growth for a brighter future and a closer relationship with God. Paul, the author of Ephesians, asserted that the way to this was to speak the truth-IN LOVE.
1 Corinthians 13 describes love as patient, kind, not envious, not boastful, not prideful, not dishonoring to others, not self-seeking, not easily angered, and keeping no records of wrongs. Love does not delight in evil but rejoices in truth. It always protects, always trusts, always hopes, always perseveres. That is a big checklist to meet the qualifications of love!
No One is Perfect
Will we always do it perfectly? Absolutely not. We are human and not Jesus, after all. But, can this be our goal and what standard we reflect upon when speaking hard truths to someone? Absolutely.
Remember to listen. Then try to understand their perspective. Finally, when your turn to speak comes, speak the truth but always in a spirit of love.