Yesterday, I talked about running being an act of self-love. But it can also be an act of love for others—even people you don’t know. You don’t have to go so far as training for a marathon where you’ll raise thousands for charity (although those who do have my endless admiration); it can be smaller, subtler, and altogether powerful.
When I run, I’m often looking for distractions from the act itself. Anything that allows me to look beyond the fact that I’m doing this hard thing. (I should point out that mindful running is also a thing I do and recommend, but it’s not an everyday gig). Last week I was on holiday, running in one of the most beautiful places on Earth, yet I was finding it miserable. So in my search for distraction, I got thinking about this saying:
“Don’t judge a person until you have walked a mile in their shoes.”
Well, I thought, I could run a mile in someone’s shoes. I could spend this next mile empathising with someone, thinking about what it might be like to be them. I could wonder what drives them, frightens them, makes them happy. I could suspend judgement and do it with love. But for whom?
And that was the interesting thing. It could be for anyone. The parent who gave life to you. The person who pissed you off at work. The friend you lost. The man at the bus stop this morning, lost in thought. The lover who broke your heart. The person you love most in the world. Hell, why not the dog?
Because empathy is also a quiet act of love. And as such, it nourishes both the empathiser and their empathise-ee. Always quietly, often unseen. But it’s there.
So I ran, and I directed my thoughts to someone who puzzles me. I walked around them, peered in and held their hand. I tried to feel what they felt, and imagined what this run might be like for them. And the thing about it is, I might have been wrong in my empathic guesswork. But, as often is the case in life, being right was never the point. The point was, I’d opened up a willingness to understand, and put my own judgements to one side—and it felt good. And you probably don’t need me to tell you that that particular mile sailed by, almost unnoticed.