Recently I presented at a road safety program and shared my crash story to Year 10 students highlighting the consequences of making bad choices when driving on the road. Afterwards I had a student come up to me to ask how I forgave and coped with people’s reaction to what had happened to me. The student was still struggling with other people’s response and reaction to her dad passing away earlier in the year. It is certainly a tough experience to go through and at such a young age.

My experience has been to try and put yourself in their shoes. Trying to see things from their perspective, their experience and their information available to them. For example, in the early days after my crash, people’s connection to me changed, often they would ask my sister how I was even though I was sitting right next to my sister at the time.

It was certainly frustrating, especially when it happened with people that I had known before my crash. However, I had to stop and realise, most people did not have someone who uses a wheelchair in their inner circle, they didn’t know what it meant, what I was still capable of doing or the challenges that I faced now. For them it was overwhelming to confront disability in this way. Our own perspective on a situation will dictate our actions or reactions. By understanding the lens the other person is viewing your situation from certainly helps explain their behaviour and reduce the feelings of hurt encountered. 

It is human nature to look at others and be comfortable when they are the same as us. The varying degrees to which we apply that expectation is connected to our exposure to differences, knowledge about various situations and the extent of self development we have pursued to allow us to be open minded and accepting of everything that comes our way.

The key thing to realise is that it is more than likely not about you but about them and their inner reflection of how they see life at this minute. Don’t take these reactions and responses personally. I certainly found that with education, the sharing of my experience and showing them what I am still capable of doing definitely broke down the barriers of pre-conceived ideas and opinions and allowed for self empowerment and authenticity to continue to exist within my relationships.

I like putting analogy to a message and in this case I imagine a shoe store. When we look at all the shoes available, we certainly cannot wear each and every one of them. We have a myriad of reasons why some shoes are not for us at any given moment. They may not fit right, or look good on our particular feet, they may not fit our budget or functionality, we may also not like the materials they are made of. They don’t tick the boxes we have created for ourselves.

Essentially we are putting our own perspective on the judgement of each shoe. However, in it’s own right each shoe has potential to be perfect for someone. When we are not authentic with ourselves, we try to put shoes on that are not right for us, we try to be someone we are not. It may work short term but eventually we have to be honest with ourselves. We have to choose the shoes that are made for us, the ones we can wear comfortably without damaging our feet and respect the beauty and value of the rest of the shoes for others.

By putting ourselves in other people’s shoes we can then understand the value they place on their perspective and why they wear the shoes they wear. We don’t have to agree with their perspective or like the shoes they choose to wear but using empathy and compassion allows us to respect their decision and realise it is not a reflection on the shoes we wear but an opinion from how they see the shoe store.

To get to the position of being able to respect all the shoes in the store, we need to recognise the value in each shoe and this is done by finding out more about how, when and why the shoe was made. More information allows for a broader perspective.

When you’re next faced with a confronting situation and a response you didn’t expect, look at it from the other person’s perspective and walk in their shoes for a minute to find understanding. Then you can control your response based on that and not from the shoes you are walking in.

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