Walking in Someone Else’s Shoes

Walking in Someone Else’s Shoes


            It has been my experience, all too often learned the hard way, that if someone in my processing plant is having trouble doing their job well, my approach to dealing with the problem is different, and more favorable to that employee, if I first step into that particular work position and see what they are seeing, rather than standing back and dissecting the work performance from a distance. (Wow, how is that for a run-on sentence?)  But my point is, no matter how well I know the job, and regardless of how much I have worked that position in the past, if I put myself into the worker’s shoes at that particular moment, seeing how the machines, material, and even co-workers are working at the moment, my management of the situation is always better.  I believe that no one in the egg industry understands the egg processing environment better than I.  But I have learned that I just can’t see the little things that are causing the problem I’m trying to resolve, unless I’m in their shoes.  So, to make myself a better manager, I make it a point to work all the positions from time to time.  This also has the added benefit of showing my employees that I do know what I’m talking about, and that I am not asking them to do anything that I can’t or won’t do myself.  But like I said, after walking in their shoes I often approach changes and improvements in a totally different way then I had intended.

            I am learning this same lesson as I seek to understand and write about my ancestors.  I don’t think that anyone in my extended family has a better grasp of our family history than I do.  In preparation for writing our history into a novel, I have spent many years gathering everything that is written on our family. 

I am not the only member of our family who has researched and recorded our story.  In fact, there are many in the previous generation who have gathered the facts, recorded our family stories, and even visited around the world at our ancestors’ homelands, interviewing distant relatives and touring original hometowns and farms.  The foundation of my research has had a vast amount of information as a starting point.  I have thick files on most of my grandparents, back two or three generations.  Even a couple books have already been written on some of their lives. 

But this week, as I prepared to introduce one more “character” into my story, I have studied the real life of my great great grandmother, Inger.  Like most of the ancestors which I am writing about, I have a few pictures of Inger. I have spent years reading everything anyone has ever written about her. I have studied her pictures to the point that I can look past the “stiff photographs of the 1800’s of old people” to where I can “see” Inger as a child full of wonder, as a young adult full of dreams and plans for the future, and as a mature adult who carries a life full of experiences. 

So I thought I really knew Inger as I began my new chapter which introduces her into my novel.  But then I started writing… not about her, like everyone else has done, but for her… seeing life though her eyes.  I see things differently when I attempt to put words into her mouth.  Her shoes aren’t comfortable to walk in, but it is already an experience that I treasure. 

So that’s got me thinking about the here and now.  How many people do I think that I know?  As I size up and judge my neighbor, my coworkers, my friends, from my point of view, it’s easy to judge.  It’s easy to know what they should do and how they should feel.  But it’s a different experience for me when I truly get into their shoes and take a few steps. 

I can visit with my father every day.  Asking how he is doing and how he is feeling, as he endures a lingering illness.  But I feel like the processing manager who “thinks” he knows what his workers are going though by just standing back and watching from a distance.  My mother is so quiet and unassuming that few, including myself, really know the personal burden she carries as she supports my dad in his illness. 

So now I am wondering about my Beautiful Wife, who I have a close and personal association with.  How well do I know how she feels inside?  What burdens does she carry that I just can’t see from my position?  In that sense, I’m like a processing manager, who smugly stands back and watches from a distance?

I think I need to learn from my work place.  I am a better manager by walking up to an employee in my processing plant and giving them a break while I step in and really see what life is like for them at work.  I think I would be a better son, husband, and father if I did the same thing for my family that I do at work.  It’s just something for me to think about… to work on.


Now, if you don’t hear from me on spaces for a few weeks, you’ll know that I am having entirely too much fun telling the story of Inger, as I write this next chapter. 

29 thoughts on “Walking in Someone Else’s Shoes”

  1. … it is a warm, loving and extraordinarily gifted man/father/husband/son that even takes the time to attempt to truly understand the heart of his wife, the plight of his employees and co-workers, the struggles of his parents, family and ancestors.  Ron, it is truly an honor to ‘know’ you…

  2. Hey, yor first sentence is NOT a run-on sentence; you merely added lots of subordinate clauses, and that’s A-OK, as folks say at NASA.
    And as Sharon said previously, I sure admire you not just for the impressive tendency you profess here of addressing situations and relationships at work from first-hand knowledge as much as possible. No, it’s for extending that tendency to situations in your private life and to your loved ones who have so many reasons to adore you.

  3. Everyones place of employment would be a happy place with a boss like you!  At Wal-Mart many of my bosses have no clue how to do the work that I am responsible for. I gotta say that thing have improved greatly  over the last few weeks. I have always thought it to be a blessing for you to be able to have so much information on your family history. Such a wonderful gift to be passed down from generation to generation.

  4. Hello. Just visiting from our Marge’s. A perceptive entry, and you are so right. It’s all too easy to approach from our field, and not see the different terrain in someone else’s. I’d say you are a good person to not only work for, but have as a friend.

  5. It is from behind their eyes that we feel empathy…experience their disappointments and heartaches and joys…I have read or heard countless lessons about walking in anothers shoes…I have found that many can traverse miles without ever perceiveing the problems faced from other than their experience base.  What is it that enables us to not only get inside their head, hear the sounds they hear with the same intensity…see the colors they see with the same contrasts….feel the same fears they do born of their childhood nightmares…taste and smell the physical and spiritual foods with the same hunger they faced…can it be done?…how is one man able to sense a childs concerns while another never will?…I have discovered a very simple exercise in the effort to hone the very skill you have employed…I ask myself a question…and then answer it as THEY WOULD..as i think they would…then actually ASK to see how close my response was… I can do my wifes job, but it may not be for me the same burden it is for her…but I ask her the proxy question and respond…then check it against her actual response…  it is amazing how close we can be at KNOWING the answer someone will give us simply by falling into character and responding as we SENSE they will…we have had so many examples to draw from…our children, friends, parents, siblings…that we start to find tendencies in situational application…if for instance you ask your sisters what their greatest fears about your parents are…I imagine your predicted responses will be closer than if you were to ask a total stranger….this because our subconscious has enourmous power to order into a character you will assume…the billions of elements you have been exposed to in your associations…bits of information.  I have for many years tried to teach with questions…but it requires that I KNOW what the answer to each will be from the point of view of the listener…what would i say IF I were them?….IF I had had their experiences…IF they are or arent concerned with what is EXPECTED…how concerned they are with peer pressure….which requires you to introduce an audience into their perceptions you "step into"… I have been blessed to know you and vallerie, and your children…and I have wondered at times while trying to communicate ideas that to me seem "natural" if they in fact are to you…or if you perceive them in completely different ways… After reading your blogs…watching you up close in your associations…I realize that I probably lack tremendous amounts of background necessary to be effective in my quest for empathy…for real understanding of the elements that make up the psychlogy of each of you…your tolerance for things outside your general world view…the stresses that bend all our reponses into pretzel logic…or the emotions born of new realizations we all face…   When you began to say you might not be blogging as much..I EXPECTED you to say that it would be because you were going to place your self into the lives of your closest FAMILY history..rather than into the writing of past history…I imagined before finishing your wonderful blog..that you had decided to do your wifes duties for a time…live your sons life as much as is possible…to experience the school activities of A B and C…to talk at length with Josh before his upcoming marriage…spend time with the little ones…forming the common experiences which will allow you a more perfect way of seeing from their perspective….can you imagine how you would IMAGINE what clarissa feels like as she skis down the crooked mile for that first time..if you had never been on anything like it…?…but by sharing common events…we learn HOW they see….we find where and why they may lack periferal vision…but more important…as you so rightly point out..it is in the SHARED vision…the more closely we are to their point of view…the more likely will our feelings be indicators of what they feel… How do we ever feel tho, the love of a mother?…how do we know the pain of a loved ones death if we have not ever EXPERIENCED IT?…I believe that anyone who says…I KNOW EXACTLY how you feel…doesnt…And those who are always striving to KNOW a little BETTER how someone feels by every available method…(substitution, talking, watching, past similar experience, and most important SENSING their soul as it copes)…are the ones who actually can experience the empathy that truely spiritual people can attain…I believe that of the many people I have met in my life,  I have sensed very few who had that gift as you seem to…and I sense that you dont stop at your ancestors…but are stepping into that place behind the eyes of those ten closest to you too…I do hope what you see will always be beautiful…and hopeful

  6. Before you criticize, you should always walk a mile in his shoes.  Then, at least, you have a 1 mile headstart, and he is barefoot.

  7. Hi Ron,  I’m looking forward to reading about my ancestors.  I wish you’d finish already so I can get started.  I’m glad Vallerie and the kids are ok.  THat near accident was really scary.  Mom told me about it a few days ago.  That was pretty funny from Warren.  I’m still waiting for him to set up a web page!

  8. Hi Ron,  I talked to the people at the bee company and they seem to think that my bees might have died from the cold this winter, or that they somehow didn’t find the excess honey in the hive to feed on.  If by chance, they got "mites", they said that the hive would be ok for new bees after the old bees had been dead for 10 days.  Anyway, I went ahead and ordered new bees.  They should be there for me to pick up on April 7th.  So, I’ll be back in the business in a couple of weeks.  I’ll let you know when I know more. 
      🙂 Kent

  9. What a good idea from Thotman.  I’m going to try that.  (Asking how someone else feels after predicting how they feel, to hone my empathatic skills.) It is so easy to pretend you know another’s thoughts, concerns, and feelings.  I am curious, though, what you would predict my thoughts to be concerning my greatest fears with Mom and Dad. I think my greatest fear is that after they are both gone I will berate myself for not being as good of a daughter as Laurie is. I do what I can, but she always does more. 

  10. Way to go on making the bed.
    The world can use more managers like you.
    You all continue being heathy and blessed, Greg

  11. Okay, ever since I  left my last comment I’ve been bothered by it.  What a selfish thing I said!  My biggest fear for Mom and Dad is that they won’t have any unnecessary pain, heartache, or stress in their older years.  And I worry that I am not doing enough to help that become a reality. My earlier comment was very enlightening to myself.  It isn’t about me, it’s about them. 
    Anyway, enough rambling.  Cheers.

    Hi, Ron!
    The compassionate attitude you have toward your co-workers is commendable. The fact that you are also extending that same sensitivity and care to your life in general is a testament to your character and the wisdom you have gained in learning from the lives, aspirations and hardships of your ancestors. We are all truly travelers in this very small boat called planet Earth and the journey called life. A little more understanding can only smooth the waters a bit more for everyone. I hope you continue to embrace this openness to understanding.
    And I wish you a wonder-filled experience as you write your novel. Joy and best of luck in your work!

  13. Please forgive my leaving a personal note in your comments window, Ron.
    I wanted to thank you so very much for your kind words after Mom’s death. I appreciated them more than I can say.
    You are a true friend and a gentleman in the best sense of the word.

  14. I really must get down to some definitive writing about ‘my’ lot. I look forward to meeting Inga in your future blogs. I would however question whether you can “see” Inger. Unless we have experienced the life and hardships they had  I find it truly difficult to write ‘for’ them. About them? Most certainly but unless we can read diaries, I find it almost impossible to see their world through my eyes. Even the old sepia photographs give no clue as to what they saw. Enjoy the spring sunshine whilst you write. H.

  15. Well I certainly want to meet Inger.  YOu sound like a great manager.  I am back at work today trying to also be a great manager and tomorrow I will go back to just being a great grandmother.  What a great life!

  16. Hey, Ron, do I have your e-mail address?  I’ll check in a minute. 
    Listen, I read your comment on my blog in which you mentioned your Motorcycle Madness entry.  I liked that one.  But what I suddenly thought of, you aspiring writer you, is a book you MIGHT want to read on that subject.  
    It’s about a father and son going cross country on their "bikes."  And the father, a university lecturer and philosopher, is repeatedly and eloquently inspired by moments here and there on their trip to get into some HEAVY philosophy. 
    I don’t know.  It’s a challenging read, but you might just like it.  It’s on one of my bookshelves.  See its pink spine reading Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance there?  Its author, Robert M. Pirsig is REALLY glad you do, I’ll bet.

  17. Hi Ron~What a lucky girl our Val is for having such a husband as you.  Your family is lucky too as are your employees.  I too am looking forward to hearing much more.

  18. Hi Ron,
    I was thinking of you today as I was reading an article in our local paper about a new "state of the art" chicken/egg facility being built near here then came to your blog to see you referring to your job!
    I  wonder how well you can get to really know someone else and understand their feeling as I very often think that no one REALLY knows me.

  19. Ron, first of all thank you so much for your understanding and caring words you shared with me on the death of our young friend at the age of 26 in that auto accident, that he left his wife with unborn child. It was sad but what a celebrated life he had and such an unforgetable person he was and his infectious Smile. Ron, you have such deep understanding of the of human inner feelings to want to be in their shoes, so well said, wish more would pick up on that what a caring world we would have. You seem to know the right things to say, what a blessing your blind date was to have such loving and interesting family. You are gifted to be able to write a novel of your family in the way you convey, am so interested hearing about Inger. Again than you for your kind words. Deanie

  20. Just popping by again to explore your blog a bit more. It has a very nice feel to it. Glad to have encountered you.

  21. Hello,Ron,how are you?
    I am very intrested in your ancester,Lnger.
    What does she look like,esp her eyes.What’s story behind her?
    Waiting for your story^^
    Take care

  22. I myself would not have much to write about. Our family history did not get passed down generation to generation. Jeff on the other hand has tons ov video tapes of his great grandma telling storis of her  "younger days" He is supposes to edit them and make some kind of movie documentary. The fact that I us the word video shows that they are pretty old. I would like to see him dive into that project for the sake of the rest of the family. Tiny Grandma lived to be 108 years old. She was spunky to the end and played a mean game of cribbage. At the age of 80 she was hanging Sheet rock in her house..LOL! Good luck with the research and writing.

  23. Oh yeah I almost forgot to thank you for your last comment, Jeff thinks It’s silly to put a loveseat in that msmall room but I rather have a smaller desk too, so we will figure something out.  Maybe an oversized chair!

  24. Hey, I heard about when you called to find out how Dad was and Mom said he just came out of surgery.  Sorry about that.  I sent an e-mail to everyone, but didn’t think that not everyone would check it right away. We got Josh’s announcement.  Good luck with all the preparations.

  25. Ron, I know what you mean that to help another a life was lost to give life. Thanks for your prayers for her recovery, will be a long haul and touch and go, but faith will prevail, it’s all up to him. I never heard of that movie "Return to me", sounds like a song, wander if still available, would love to see what you remember of that movie. Yes I’ll keep you in touch as how she is doing. We’re having a cold spell, snow is predicted, Easter bunny brings frozen eggs, lol, well it is an early Easter this year, just hope hubby gets over the nasty stomach flu as we are invited to spend Easter with my cousin and her family, just have to play by ear. You have a Great Easter to you and your lovely Family. Deanie

  26. Hugs and smiles from "still" sunny southern Indiana.  I say that because our weather is changing as we speak….:(

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