26 June 2017

Walking in someone else's shoes

Making judgments on what other people's motives may be, can be easy. It may not, however, involve a great deal of thought. It can be difficult as adults to fully understand what it is like to be a teenager or a young child or someone else for that matter. We try to reflect on what we remember from that time of our own lives but times change and we are all individuals.

As individuals we are the sum of our experiences. As times change the people and things that influence our lives change as well. Where we are in life - our race, class, education, family background and religion - will influence how we see the world. Inevitably, each one of us views the world through the prism of our own experience. Our perspective will vary and all the things that will influence our perspective determine our perception.

The problem is - as we are all too aware, as we look at the divided world in which we live - that in seeing the world our way, we fail to fully appreciate the experience and perspective of others. Our world is blighted by the inability of individuals and groups to see beyond their own view of the world.

In order to heal the divisions in our world, our community or our school, we have to develop the ability to sit in someone else's seat, to see the world as others see it.

Many people have made reference to a powerful quote, noted in Harper Lee's famous book about racial prejudice, 'To Kill a Mockingbird'. The quote reads, 'You never really know a man until you stand in his shoes and walk around in them.' Of course, that is not an easy thing to do. From the time we are born, we all seem to be naturally egocentric. A baby thinks that it is the centre of the universe and that others exist to meet its needs - and sometimes, even as adults, we find it difficult to move beyond that way of seeing the world. Yet if we could have the courage and imagination to see the world as others see it - what a difference we could make.

Nelson Mandela was such a man, which is why he is admired as one of the great moral giants of our time. In spite of the suffering and oppression of black people in apartheid South Africa, in spite of spending 27 years in prison for standing up against racism, Mandela came out of jail ready to forgive, ready to understand the fears and hopes of white South Africans.

If each one of us could seek to put ourselves in the place of the victim of bullying or racism, or of the homeless or hungry person, or of the person who is suffering, this world - and our school - would be more compassionate, caring places. In fact, if we could all put ourselves in the place of the person who is being bullied, isolated, or different or has learning needs we would better understand how it is to be them. Perhaps then we would be more accepting of each other.

It is compassion that distinguished Jesus' dealings with other people. When he came across the outcasts of his day, he offered them love instead of judgement. One of the greatest qualities we see in the life of Jesus is his compassion: his ability to see the world from the perspective of those who were very different from him.

Mr John Stewart

Head of Junior School