Tuesday, December 6, 2011

"Daddy, why are you going barefoot?"

I finally heard this question from my son as we crossed through the parking lot to go into Trader Joe's. I have to admit it somewhat surprised me. He's attended many of my barefoot meetups, and he's seen me shop barefoot in stores before. So I suppose I took for granted that my son simply knew that I preferred to be barefoot whenever and wherever possible. But it seems that, although he's had experience of my preference for a while now, the question of "why" might not have occurred to him until then.

I tried my best to explain to him that first of all, I just don't like wearing shoes, and that I'm more comfortable without them. But I also tried to impress upon him that I've discovered that my being barefoot is a central part of who I am as an individual, and that different people have different ways of living, and of being, and that those differences are something special.

This brings up something that I don't think we as barefooters do a good enough job of addressing - and that is that going barefoot isn't a matter of choice for us. It IS a choice, in the strictest sense - but it's a false choice. Could I live my life wearing shoes again? Sure, I COULD. But I could also live my life wearing handcuffs, or a mask, or a scuba tank on my back. Those are all choices, but they're not choices any sane, rational person would suggest, because choosing that negatively impacts you day to day. Those of us who have discovered that we are more fulfilled human beings when we don't have to put on shoes - we are making a choice to be barefoot, yes. But for us, there *is* no other choice. Shoes to us, are like scuba tanks for everyone else. I wish that we as a community did more to communicate this thought to others.

Back to my original thought - I don't know how much of this I am able to articulate to a 7 year old - because as soon as I gave him the straightforward answer that I don't like shoes, he was off and running on another tangent, and I'm not sure he heard the rest of my explanation. :-)

But that brings up an interesting question about teaching tolerance and diversity to children, and the challenges that we face as parents to accomplish that goal. I think that, like many things, it feels frustrating to try and communicate complex ideas and virtues to a child (and also to some adults), especially a young child who is looking for a simple answer to the question that they've asked. I think that we simply have to keep talking about it with our kids and hope that the deeper meanings are being absorbed, somewhere in their consciousness. Or that they at least know that we have more to say on the subject, and that we will keep the dialogue open, with the hope that someday they will be ready to seek more in-depth answers to life's larger questions.

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