The Shoe Gene
I’ve been wanting to write about this topic for quite a while. I think put yourself in someone else’s shoes is a great jumping off point to improve your memoir, but more importantly, it’s a way to live your legacy of love with more generosity, forgiveness, and compassion.
Bear with me while I explain what I mean . . .
Truth be told, I didn’t get the shoe gene. My sister and my mother-in-law love shoes, and my daughter has inherited the shoe gene from them. She can’t wait until her feet stop growing so she can begin amassing her permanent shoe collection!
But I don’t collect lots of shoes. I love my sneakers and my tall boots and my faux mukluks (a.k.a. bulky socks) for hanging around the house. I have a couple of classic pairs of heels and flats that outlast the fashion trends. I prefer comfort over fashion, and I can’t imagine having to decide which pair of shoes to put on each morning. That’s just me.
My Metaphorical Shoe Collection
That said, I find myself wearing a lot of other people’s shoes every day. I can’t hear about an intellectual, political, religious, ethical, or cultural debate without considering all points of view. And although I usually find myself landing on one clear side of an issue, getting to that decision can be a painful and exhausting process as the debate rages on in my mind.
You see, even when I know what I believe, I always go back and put myself in the other person’s shoes. I feel what I think she would feel, and sometimes that can be difficult. However, I also think that’s what makes me a better memoirist and a better person.
Despite the discomfort that you might experience when you put yourself in someone else’s shoes, I believe it’s in your best interest, your memoir’s best interest, and your family’s best interest to do so.
Here are three reasons why I believe this to be true.
Despite the discomfort that you might experience
when you put yourself in someone else’s shoes,
I believe it’s in your best interest,
your memoir’s best interest, and
your family’s best interest to do so.
#1 Improve the Quality of Your Memoir
When you put yourself in your audience’s shoes, you will write about what your audience wants to know. You will answer the questions that your readers and listeners want you to answer before they have the opportunity to ask the questions.
Providing answers will make your memoir more robust and satisfying for your audience. Your readers and listeners will understand the details of the events and relationships that shaped your life, and they will have a stronger sense of your motivations, feelings, and desires.
People will read or listen to your memoir so they can learn something about you and about themselves. Put yourself in your audience members’ shoes. Be generous with your time as you consider their perspectives and be generous as you share the vulnerable parts of you with your readers. Doing so will increase your chances of meeting their goals as well as your own.
#2 Heal Yourself and your relationships
I don’t often like to talk about healing yourself through memoir, because many of my Storytellers/Authors don’t realize they even have a part of themselves that needs to be healed until we get deep into the process. But the truth is, we all have voids that need to be filled, pain that needs to be alleviated, and fears that need to be allayed.
Sometimes, sharing your story can help with this type of healing. Memoirists, like me, often refer to the memoir writing/telling process as therapeutic but not therapy. (Disclaimer: If you have unresolved, emotional and/or traumatic events in your life, please be sure to work with a licensed therapist before engaging in a project with a memoirist.)
Putting yourself in the other character’s shoes is one technique to help you heal. For example, one of my Storytellers shared her stories of a difficult and often abusive relationship with her parent. The teller loved her parent, and therefore, faced a challenge as she shared negative but true experiences.
As we dug deeper and discussed her loved one’s upbringing, beliefs, values, etc., we saw an alternate motivation for his words and actions. This is when I advised my Storyteller to tell herself a different story.
When you tell yourself a different story, the alternate reality makes room for you to forgive your loved one and offer grace and/or mercy. This is not to say that you will have any interaction with your loved one. To the contrary, in situations like this, your loved one sometimes isn't even alive to confront. But in a sense, the way you write the conclusion to the negative story has the power to bring forth reconciliation.
In addition, I’m not advocating that you include the alternate reality in your writing. I simply mean that, through forgiveness, you can soften the sharp edges of the story as you tell it.
You must remember that you forgive for yourself, not necessarily for the one who needs to be forgiven. If you carry around bitterness and resentment, you will never heal, and your wound will bleed through your memoir potentially leaving your readers with a sense of unrest or a lack of closure. Forgiveness leading to reconciliation is frequently the remedy you (and your memoir) need.
(For my faithful friends, this verse seems to pull it all together, Let all bitterness and wrath and anger and clamor and slander be put away from you, along with all malice. Be kind to one another, tenderhearted, forgiving one another, as God in Christ forgave you. Ephesians 4:31-32)
When you don’t know exactly why the other character in your story behaved the way she did, try to see the world from her perspective as much as possible and tell yourself a forgiving and compassionate alternate story before you try to write or record.
Forgiveness leading to reconciliation is
frequently the remedy you (and your memoir) need.
#3 Model Compassion
(I have a lot to say on this topic, so don’t be surprised if you see more from me about compassion.)
First, I think the world needs more compassion. The word compassion brings to mind concepts such as empathy, sympathy, grace, mercy, pain, and suffering. Unfortunately, people who need compassion are often faced with judgment and misunderstanding that fuel more negative emotions like bitterness, anger, and resentment.
The other day, I was struck by a statement made by a commentator. He said that you cannot learn to be compassionate. Really? I fear for our culture if our capacity for compassion is delivered at birth without a way for us to nurture our ability to express compassion.
Sometimes, I think we become less compassionate when we are hurt or “burned” by someone—when we are most vulnerable. We put walls up to protect ourselves, and what appears to be dislike, indifference, or cruelty is actually our way of coping with past and potential pain and rejection. We actually need more of what we struggle to give: compassion.
As you write your life, you will share experiences in which you feel another person’s physical or emotional pain. Maybe you’ve been there. Maybe you haven’t, but you can imagine being there. She cries on your shoulder, and you dry her tears. You listen without judging her words or actions. You stand firmly in her shoes and love her unconditionally. And by telling those difficult but compelling stories, you model compassion for your reader.
Consider my Storyteller who wrote about her father. He became an alcoholic due to undiagnosed and untreated, war-related, Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD). Daddy made her life difficult and painful, but she still felt sympathy for him.
She wanted to alleviate his suffering and spent most of her adult life caring for his physical, emotional, and financial well-being. Sharing these negative parts of her father’s life, initially, felt like a betrayal, but sharing the positive way she navigated and looked back on those life events modeled compassion. Her readers, especially her grandsons, will be better off because of her example.
I want to touch on compassion from one other perspective: compassion for yourself. As you review your life, you will undoubtedly remember times when your actions were less than acceptable to you or even, with the benefit of twenty-twenty hindsight, downright wrong.
You might remember instances in which you were treated unfairly or in an unkind manner. The manner in which you tell those stories will be how you remember those stories and how your readers integrate those stories into their personal narratives.
I remind you to put yourself in your own younger self’s shoes as you share each story authentically. What did you see, hear, taste, and what types of emotions does the story evoke? What motivated you back then and how would your present-day self handle things differently? What lessons did you learn?
Then, I want you to care for your younger self as you would a stranger. What words would you use to bless yourself with forgiveness, grace, mercy, and sympathy even while you might still need to hold yourself accountable? Write from that perspective, and you’ll produce a more inspiring and uplifting memoir.
What About You?
Whose shoes will you be wearing today as you share your life story and live your legacy of love? How will you answer your audience’s unasked questions as you also model generosity, forgiveness, and compassion?
Please comment below, and if I can help you write your story, please reach out to schedule a Save a Life Story Conversation with me.
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This publication is based upon personal experience, research, and education. Although the author has made every reasonable attempt to achieve complete accuracy of the content in this article, the author and Sunday Dinner Stories assume no responsibility for errors, omissions, or inaccurate information. For privacy reasons, some names may have been changed or omitted. The content is not intended to replace common sense, legal, medical, or other professional advice; it is meant to encourage, inspire, educate, and inform the reader. That means you should consult with your attorney, doctors, and other professionals if you have any concern about implementing our advice. But we hope you'll consider us your memoir professionals and will consult us for all your storytelling needs!
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