Labels, Barriers and Shoes

Nationalist, separatist, alt-right, liberal, 1%, disaffected white men, red state, blue state, fundamentalist, second-amenders, black, rural, immigrant, brown, urban, under-employed, veteran, college educated women, LGBTQ, Muslim, Jewish, and the list goes on and on. 

Each day it seems that a new label is generated to quickly (and so incompletely) describe another group or person.  As if one word or two could perform that task.

We humans are complex beings.  Our brains are constructed the same, but our experiences, thoughts and emotions determine how specifically our neural pathways are connected.  And let us not forget the complexity that our DNA and the combination of our genes affect our physical and mental characteristics and ultimately our health.

We are all unique and yet there are powerful commonalities across our human spectrum.  We all want to be heard, seen, acknowledged, respected and loved.  We all want the best for our families, our children to be safe, and our lives to feel secure.  We want to believe that we contribute, and our lives are of value.

With all our commonalities, I keep wondering why there is such a focus on closing the doors, building fences, and creating barriers.  The focus on us vs them, this black/white thinking, and the polarities of our society are exhausting to me.   At the same time I am mindful of how easy it is to fall into the trance of exclusionary thought.

I had the opportunity a few weeks ago to experience the opposite of this polarity thinking and behavior.  To engage with people who are navigating the complexity of living with a holistic perspective.  Two cultures that understand the importance of being open, sharing their beliefs and way of life with others, on behalf of partnership.

My husband, our oldest grandson, and I travelled to Ecuador to visit the Achuar and Sapara people of the Amazon rainforest.  This wasn’t an eco-tourist trip.  Our intention was to learn as much as we could in too short a period of their customs, way of life, and beliefs. 

We experienced the natural beauty of the rainforest, traveled by small planes, canoes, and on foot.  We engaged in a few of their practices and rituals, sampled a bit of their food and drink, and most importantly, developed an appreciation for the rainforest and their way of life.

We were ritualistically cleansed, shared our dreams for interpretation by Shamans, given new names, and had our faces painted multiple times.  We were shown the beauty, utility, complexity and majesty of the rainforest and we were always protected from its dangers. Welcomed with greetings and shy smiles, we said our goodbyes with heart-felt hugs and tears.


As I’ve read my journal entries, reviewed my drawings and photographs, I’ve reflected on the differences between cultures that operate from black/white thinking and those that live in the world of connection and relationship.

The people we met endeavor to live with a foot in both worlds.  They organize and create political structures to influence their local and national governments, while raising their children within the customs and languages of their ancestors.

I wonder what our country and those of the ‘Western world’ could be like if we took the time and energy to open our barriers, physical, emotional, cognitive and spiritual to explore and learn from each other.

There is a saying that to understand another person you need to walk a mile in their shoes.  What can you do today to open your heart to someone who is different? 

What questions can you ask on behalf of a desire to understand another?  What small step can you take today to explore another person’s world?  Perhaps just try on their shoes.