The right feet and shoes

Can any of us ever claim to have selflessly placed ourselves in someone else’s position?

Tooba Akhtar July 13, 2010
An incident was relayed to me quite recently, the crux of which was a 22-year-old extremely well educated individual’s lack of social consciousness - their complete ignorance and naïve understanding of the people inhabiting the world around them. That and several other similar incidents have dominated my thoughts of late.

Today I encountered something that put my mind into overdrive. As I was leaving the mosque after a lecture, I uncovered my head as I normally do not cover it. While I was standing outside with my family, waiting for my car, a woman said that I should cover my head back as apparently “I was accumulating sins for others as well as for myself.”

My first reaction was shock, very closely followed by anger. ‘How dare she?!’ I thought. At the moment I was simply too stunned to come up with a fitting reply so I walked off. While fuming in the car, I gave the incident a little more thought.  Why did the woman aggravate me to such an extent? I realized it was the fact that she judged me by my seemingly ‘modern’ attire (I was, as I always do, dressed in a shalwar kameez) and the unbelievably promiscuous act of taking the duppatta off my head in public. Her perception of me as non-religious, liberal, secular, modern or whatever else she thought was upsetting since I conceive of myself as the very opposite. I never claim to be ultra religious. I dress conservatively but am fairly conscious of fashion trends and attempt some form of assimilation (a poor one though, I must admit) but anyone thinking of me for something I am not, irks me. Moreover, be it a stranger or a friend, anyone forming any opinion about me based on an exclusive action or a standard stereotype is troublesome.

The irony is that what that woman said or thought was not in any way an oddity. She was not the first person I have encountered to judge one for their appearance or singular actions. Neither is this a symptom of a specific age, mentality, class, creed or sect. In fact, at this moment I can think of only two people in my entire social arsenal that are not guilty of this charge. Despite my knowing someone for years, I still think of them based on my own conception of who they are.

I often accuse my parents of ‘not stepping into my shoes’ and hence failing to understand me. What just hit me is that no one or more justly, rarely does anyone think of the other from an external viewpoint. Can any of us ever claim to have selflessly placed ourselves in someone else’s position or at the very least made a sincere effort to do so? I understand that many of us barely understand ourselves, let alone others, but I cannot help thinking that our societies would be massively improved if we only attempted to think of others as if we were them. Should basic civil compassion not necessitate such behavior? This beast, ‘ignorance,’ that all our evils seem to originate from, is not killed through education neither can the weapon be sought from a university abroad. The sword, to me, appears to be the right combination of feet and shoes; ours in someone else’s.
Tooba Akhtar The author is a final year student of Economics and Political Science at the Lahore University of Management Sciences.
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