We’ve all heard the phrase that we need to walk a mile in someone else’s shoes.
I don’t disagree, but I think Harper Lee expressed this concept best through Atticus Finch in “To Kill a Mockingbird” when he told his daughter Scout, “You never really understand a person until you consider things from his point of view, until you climb inside his skin and walk around in it.”
When I was in Ethiopia, I got a taste of what my new son’s life would be like as a minority in America.
As one of the few white people in Addis Ababa, I learned what it was like to be different. Of course white people weren’t discriminated against or owned as slaves by Ethiopians. No one treated me as though I were inferior simply because my skin wasn’t dark enough.
Even being different from others in that culture, I still didn’t get a full picture of what life might be like for him as a black person in America.
There are many factors beyond skin color that influence that experience.
Differences don’t just come down to race. One local company recently tried to help people get inside their patients’ skin to better understand how they see the world to help improve their lives.
Family members, staff members and others from the community took time to take a Virtual Dementia Tour.
Belfair of Shawnee can’t recreate their patients’ lives, but they can help give a glimpse of daily life and help caregivers and family members understand what the world looks like, sounds like and feels like to people who suffer from dementia, Alzheimer’s or other conditions that affect the brain.
As the tour began, we put insoles in our shoes that had little spikes on top. These replicated the neuropathy that many patients feel with every step. That wasn’t a lot of fun. I can assure you.
Next we put on thick gloves, one had the thumb and forefinger sewn together to replicated the difficulties patients have with dexterity and sensory problems. Then came the wrap-around glasses that have limited views, blurring and restrictive sight. But those were nothing compared to the headphones.
Processing “white noise” is not easy from people suffering with these conditions. The headphones played something like an AM radio station struggling to come in through one ear and the other had ambient sounds like doorbells, phones ringing, conversations and so on.
Concentration and attention to detail were no easy tasks.
Upon entering the room, tour members were given a list of simple tasks to complete while wearing the gear to simulate patient realities.
I was asked to run a belt into a pair of pants, put three pills in a cup, write down 8 brown items you would buy at a grocery store, set a clock to 8:50 and clear a table.
I felt confused, bothered, and even a little stupid. It will come as no surprised to my wife that I failed because I didn’t clear the table.
One thing I didn’t feel was afraid. I could have removed the devices at any time and returned to normal life. I think that was the main thing I took away from the tour.
There was a list on the wall to help remind you of your tasks. However, it was written in such a way that you processed the instructions like an affected person would. It was no help to me.
I was so relieved that this experience isn’t how I live. I had an escape route and I was grateful for it. If that were my reality, I can’t imagine the fear and frustration I would deal with along with my physical problems.
That was the point. I walked around inside their skin if only for a moment.
As a caregiver, that experience would be incredibly enlightening. It would be instructive in helping determine what a patient needs and giving them great care.
It is hard to call going through a tour like that fun but it was enjoyable. I wish there were similar tours for other important issues.
Always take the time to find a way to feel what others feel so you can show the empathy they deserve.