In a self-centered and egotistical world, it is difficult to understand the people in which we communicate with on a daily basis. In the United States, we live in a world of extreme diversity with various religions, ethnicities, sexual orientations, and backgrounds. This makes it difficult to connect and understand the people we surround ourselves with or interact with as we all tend to communicate based on our own experiences growing up.
As a clinician, we take an oath to treat all patients equally and fairly despite differences in race, sex, or even economic class. How is this possible, though, when many of us have very limited understanding of people that may be very different from us in these subject matters? I have recently discovered a relationship between how wearing different shoes have helped me come to understand people that may be different than myself.
At my job as a new dental associate in a small town in Western Missouri, we have a dress code policy that requires us to wear either black or dark gray scrubs. This leaves little room for the excitement one normally feels after buying a new outfit to showcase. Although there are many of us that may not care about what we wear on a day-to-day basis, there are others that have embedded style into their personality where clothing and outfits affect the way they feel about themselves and how they treat others. In fact, Professor Karen Pine of the University of Hertfordshire, an expert in fashion psychology, captivated in her book “Mind What You Wear”, that our emotional state and our choice of clothing are linked together. In an interview she said, “we know our clothes affect other people’s impressions of us. Now research shows what we wear affects us too. Putting on different clothes creates different thoughts and mental processes… clothes can change [our] mood and thoughts.” And as we all know, our moods and thoughts cause different behaviors, which for us dentists, ultimately affect our patients.
So, in search of finding a way to diversify my wardrobe among a limited range of clothing options, I went immediately to shoes. Upon buying my first pair of bright red Adidas, I discovered something new. After opening that fresh box of new sneakers, I placed them on my feet. Looking in the mirror I suddenly felt rejuvenated and excited for the next day as I was set to wear them to work. As tomorrow finally came, I noticed that my attitude toward patients truly was different. I was excited, happy, and open in my understanding and conversation among many patients that were different than myself. From farmers and loco-motive engineers, to teachers and police officers; from the poor man with a toothache to an upper class elderly patient with a broken partial denture, I noted that I was easily able to adapt my thoughts, treatment discussions, and behaviors to match their personal and dental needs.
After discovering this vast difference of behavior, I was determined to try it again with a different pair of shoes: this time with some New Balances. I noticed that the same thing happened except I had a different feeling in these shoes. I felt as if I was more confident and decisive than I was in my previously worn Adidas. Could this little experiment just be a psychological puzzle that is fictional in nature or are these shoes really creating some sort of difference in the way I act and feel toward others and myself?
To answer this question, let’s go back to a cause that was popular years ago: the “walk a mile in her shoes” cause. This charity walk was a fundraiser designed to have men put on a set of red high-healed shoes in hopes to raise awareness and to stop rape, sexual assault, and gender violence. The Walk A Mile In Her Shoes Organization states on their website that, “you can’t understand another person’s experience until you’ve walked a mile in their shoes,” and that, ” it’s not easy walking in these shoes, but it’s an experience around which a lot of education, self-reflection, and change happens.”
This physical act of putting on a different set of shoes is a tangible representation of how placing ourselves outside of our comfort zones to experience different perspectives can help us increase our awareness and understanding of those that may be different than us.
As a middle school dropout I have experienced a lot that has helped me understand people from all sorts of backgrounds. Having experienced the negative effects of divorced parents, it became normal in my youth to go through more than 25 moves through several different states–experiencing home evictions along the way. It was normal to me to see the hardships of what Black Americans face as a minority group as I was brought up in a home with my African-American brother. Understanding poverty and the difficulty of linguistics became easy for me to understand after having lived in Honduras for two years while serving as a volunteer missionary for my church.
By wearing different shoes, whether literally or figuratively, we gain new perspective and power to understand those around us. Our patients are in our stewardship to treat according to their personal needs. It is our responsibility to gain this perspective of understanding in order to cater to their necessities. We can all find this power within us by simply putting on a new set of shoes.
Photo credits: https://www.enidnews.com/news/local_news/enid-men-can-walk-a-mile-in-her-shoes-advocating-for-an-end-to-violence/article_be9d0e34-a2e0-11eb-b0d5-e745f1e1d5b2.html