Tread With Empathy  A few years back, I was invited to go on a hike at Los Angeles' Runyon Canyon. I'd never been, however I'd  heard stories about the site and was eager to visit.  It was early Fall, so there was a bit of a crispness in the air.  I choose to wear a light sweatshirt, black jogging pants and my black slip on sneakers.  They were super comfortable and no-fuss.  Plus, I didn't care if they got dirty.  I grabbed the camera I had at that time - a Canon DSLR and packed a sling bag with lenses.  To say I was excited would be an understatement.  First time hiking, the chance to take amazing photos and time spent with one of my most favorite people in the entire world. I was set for a day of exploring nature.      However, what I did not know is that Runyon Canyon - at noon, on a weekend day - is not really for leisurely strolling while taking serene photos of nature.  Nor did I know that for my friend who is a former Marine, this was to be a workout - not a stroll about. So there I was in my grey  sweatshirt and black pants with the intention of warding off forest critters and instead I found myself in the midst of the largest Los Angeles free workout known.  I watched people zip by me. Men, shirtless and sweaty - women in tiny two piece workout outfits.  And my friend - the former Marine....yep, he was in the perfect clothes for Runyon Canyon.  I told myself to just enjoy the moments even as the crowd of people swelled and the sounds of nature were drowned out by ringing cell phones or conversations overheard in passing about the latest party spots. As we walked on, I stopped taking pictures when I realized my stop and go pace was slowing us down and I  just tried to keep up my pace.  My sling bag of lenses bumping against my leg in steady rhythm of thumps didn't help.  The soles of my tread bare,  black slip-on sneakers were clearly out place.   I found myself unable to stay in step with my friend because my shoes simply couldn't grip the slippery sand-like dirt.  There were boulders to climb up and run down.  As much as I wanted to keep up, my baggage and my shoes wouldn't allow me to move deftly or nearly as fast. I felt like a dead weight. Later that evening I looked through the few photos I'd snapped and I could see glimpses of the beauty contained within Runyon Canyon.  Yet, I was consumed with thoughts of my shoes and the lack of tread. I think in life we somehow assume that everyone's shoes will work in the same way as our own.  But it doesn't work like that.  We all come in with our knowledge of what the trails will look like  or what the atmosphere will be and, if we are lucky enough, have foresight,  knowledge or someone who is able to tell us all of the details of what to expect. Then we can plan and make arrangements  so that we show up ready to participate in a way that helps us to grow. But oftentimes we don't know what we are walking into.  We enter situations with  limited knowledge  and a preconceived notion of how things will be and then imagine our desired outcome based on those two things. No matter which side of the 'dress-code" we are on, we have to tread with empathy.  We have to approach our understanding of how another person is dealing with a situation from a place of complete willingness to see all of their "baggage" and give it light. This, I believe, is the basis for the argument of defining equity vs. equality.  And even further, it provides a way to understand the  saying,  "some people are born on third base and think they hit a home-run."   Certainly hiking uphill is easier while wearing deeply treaded shoes as opposed to slip on sneakers with a flat rubber sole.  Certainly graduating from college with a $75,000 trust fund is easier than graduating with a $75,000 student loan debt.  We have to tread with empathy when observing, listening, exchanging dialogue. The ability for an individual to see another person's circumstances through their own eyes can be learned.  It takes stepping outside of our point of view and allowing our ego to drop away while we process, without judgment, what is taking place in their lives.  Treading with empathy means we take a good long look at the other person's "shoes" before we suggest they pull up by their own boots straps.   Upon closer inspection  we may quickly see that there are no bootstraps to pull. My friend, the Marine, walked with empathy on that  Fall day.  I could see that he wanted to run and full-on sprint, and yes at times he did jog on ahead.  But he always looked back to see about me.  Eventually we walked side by side. Tread with Empathy. Love,HeavenNezCree         

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