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Other Shoes

Mar 15 / Ernest Wiggins

That adage about walking in another's shoes is a good reminder that we all have separate lives- different even from those we are closest to.

Historians trace the staying to the 1895 poem Judge Softly by activist and suffragist Mary T. Lathrap. The ending phrase reads:

“Remember to walk a mile in his moccasins

And remember the lessons of humanity taught to you by your elders.

We will be known forever by the tracks we leave

In other people’s lives, our kindnesses and generosity.

Take the time to walk a mile in his moccasins.”

Even though the admonition is ideal, fanciful, and perhaps impractical, I still try to imagine life in another lane. It enriches my life and enhances my worldview.

Social Media Scroller

I have become an Instagram scroller and find myself following influencers all over the world confronting personal challenges. There's the:

British fitness influencer working through cerebral palsy (cptruths)
2. Young competitive bodybuilder in the same country who talks of childhood exclusion and battered self-esteem among teenaged males (maxielifts)
3. Parcel delivery trucker in Texas who has a history of depression but carries a message of smiling through adversity (russelldancingupsman),
4. Celebrated vegan forager who champions the history and traditions of foraging among Black and indigenous people (blackforager)

They all seem to be talking the talk and walking the walk. I admire these people's fortitude and am inspired by their dedication to their wholeness. They’re also are open about sharing not just the highlights but the lows, their struggles to maintain balance - quite literally in the case of cptruths.

Of course, as with most things related to social media, there’s another dimension to what these folks and other lifestyle influencers are doing. Many hawk sponsors as they take viewers along on their journeys.

I do wonder if they will continue to be successful if their public image and marketing obligations add other kinds of pressure to their quests - as their fans imagine life in their shoes and try to imitate it. Having to produce content regularly in addition to all the other things they must contend with is undoubtedly challenging – exhausting.

Influencer Industry

It’s also big business. According to one group of social media marketing experts (Influencer Marketing Hub), the influencer industry is set to grow to about $24 billion by the end of this calendar year. They have found TikTok to be the most popular channel, followed in order of decreasing popularity by Instagram, YouTube, and Facebook. Sponsors report preferring to work with influencers who are “real people” over celebrities and are increasingly more inclined to pay successful influencers rather than give them free product, although many still get swag. Maybe not ironically, many of the fitness influencers get free shoes.

It seems to me, marketers are taking the human capacity for empathy, once exclusively the lifeblood of eleemosynary appeals, and turned it into a billion-dollar selling tool for their commercial enterprises.

That leaves me with mixed feelings, but I would be tilting at windmills to try to mount a campaign to disrupt what is clearly a juggernaut for the modern era.

Empathy Now

I don’t wonder what this says about us and our capacity for more purely other-directedness.

In 2020, Scientific American published an essay by Judith Hall and Mark Leary that described a paucity of other-directed caring, empathy in society. They wrote in part, “Whatever people think empathy is, it’s a powerful force and human beings need it.” They urged their readers to “(t)ake the time to ask those you encounter how they are feeling, and really listen. Try to put yourself in their shoes. Remember that we all tend to underestimate other people’s emotional distress, and we are most likely to do so when those people are different from us” (Scientific American).

This seems sane and healthy to me, a perfect fit for these divisive times.

© Mary T. Lathrap |

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About the blogger

Ernest Wiggins, Writer / Independent Scholar

Ernest L. Wiggins is a professor emeritus of journalism and mass communications at the University of South Carolina. For nearly 30 years, Wiggins taught professional journalism, news media, and community engagement, public opinion and persuasion, and mass media criticism, among other courses.

His research interests focused on mass media’s representation of marginalized communities, primarily news agencies. A native of Washington, D.C., Wiggins was a reporter and editor at the Columbia Record and The State newspapers before joining the faculty at USC, where he earned both his bachelor's and master's degrees.

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