“Walk a mile in my shoes.” You’ve heard that expression before. But what if we really did that?
Just for one day.
Just for one hour.
Just for one moment.
What if we could truly imagine what it felt like to be someone else?
Since election night, I’ve thought a lot about the coal miners in Kentucky who voted for Trump.
I have no idea what it’s like to mine coal. Seems like it must be terrible. All that grueling claustrophobic work and black lung for your trouble. It’s hard to imagine this as the choice you must make to feed your children.
But I do know what it’s like to do grueling work, to worry about how I will pay the rent, to not have enough money to buy groceries, to feel frightened of how I will keep the heat on if I can’t pay the gas bill. I don’t think you can ever forget the taste in your mouth of fear and hunger. From this place I have imagined myself in their shoes.
I would be angry too.
I might feel forgotten.
I know a banker who votes solely based on his wallet. He is a numbers man. He votes Republican no matter who is running because “It’s good for the Dow” and because he wants to pay fewer taxes.
He is a proud 1%-er.
I have tried to imagine how it might feel to be him. To make a salary equivalent to ten times an average man’s and even more than that for an average woman’s. What does if feel like to care deeply about “less government.” To think Medicare is for “the others.” To think welfare is ruining America.
It was a lot harder to imagine being him than the coal miners, but I tried. I imagined myself successful after years of education, interning and working my way up the ranks. I imagined feeling proud of my net worth and looking forward to an easy retirement, then resenting the government chipping away at my nest egg by raising taxes and adding Wall Street regulations to prevent another collapse in the economy.
I imagined what it might feel like to be reliant on my income for my sense of self. This part wasn’t as hard to imagine as the other ones. Who doesn’t feel better when they are successful?
I tried to imagine putting money before human rights. But I couldn’t stretch that far.
I imagined what it might feel like to be a Muslim in America. This is perhaps the easiest for me to imagine. I thought about the years growing up when my family spent the summers in a town where we were the only Jews. When the word got out, “holy rollers,” as we called them, came to our door to sing the devil out of us. Another time, a gas station attendant inspected me for my “horns and tail.”
We were “the others.” Surely there was something wrong with us.
I grew up listening to the stories of my family who had been killed in the Holocaust and how it started with them having to wear yellow stars. I know what happens when government asks non-Christians to register.
I imagine a Muslim in America right now might feel alienated, betrayed, angry and frightened.
I imagine myself as a Syrian refugee being denied access into the safe arms of America and I think of the “Voyage of the Damned,” the ill-fated 1939 voyage of the MS St. Louis, filled with Jews trying to escape Germany. They were denied entry into this great and free country and ultimately sent back to Hitler. Many of the passengers lost their lives to the Nazis.
I close my eyes and can hear my mother’s voice: “Has mankind learned nothing?!”
I have tried to imagine myself as a black person in America. It was even harder, because no amount of imagining can really prepare you for what it’s like to live in a world in which you are not the privileged class after being raised as such.
I imagine worrying if my son who went to the corner deli to buy milk might not come back. I imagine being stopped on my way to work because to someone, I looked like trouble.
I think about men who say Planned Parenthood should lose funding. They think abortions should be illegal. One wrote on Facebook, “Women should take responsibility for their own actions!”
Interestingly, this same man didn’t think the men who impregnate women should be financially responsible.
I would like these men to imagine how it might feel to be a 16-year-old girl, a victim of date rape who finds herself pregnant. She is still in high school. Her whole life is ahead of her. Imagine that, and then tell me women don’t have a right to choose.
I have known men who don’t seem to think women’s rights are human rights.
I’d like these men to imagine how it feels to be a woman. To endure sexual harassment. To be paid less for the same work. To worry about getting pregnant. To worry about being raped. To be grabbed, belittled, treated like a second-class citizen, called honey, sugar butt, baby, and when they defend themselves, called bitch.
I ask men to imagine how it feels to be a woman and have the man running for the highest office in the land say his power allows him to grab you by your genitals whenever he wants.
Many, many heterosexuals voted for politicians and support Supreme Court judges who think that gays should be denied service in businesses, that gay sex should be criminalized, that gay marriage is an abomination.
I ask them to imagine how it might feel to spend your life knowing that you can be jailed, murdered, beaten and humiliated for having the audacity to love whomever you love.
Imagine laws being passed allowing blatant discrimination against you; imagine how you would feel being treated like a pariah for simply following your heart.
The United States, land of the free and home of the brave, does not feel very free or brave or much like home right now.
Maybe, just maybe, if we really could imagine what it might feel like to be each other then we really could make America great again. Right now all we are doing is making America hate again.