Two daughters and I drove into New York City on Monday to see the Degas exhibit at the Museum of Modern Art. A billboard advertising Kenneth Cole shoes caught my attention: there was a pair of beat-up walking shoes at the bottom, and the caption above them read–It’s not a walk of shame unless you’re wearing the wrong shoes. I looked up that phrase to make sure I knew what it meant. Those who saw the 2014 movie by that name already know what it means: a person must walk past strangers or peers alone for an embarrassing reason before reaching a place of safety and privacy. I thought of the people walking past that billboard wearing the only pair of shoes they had. I thought of how they must feel being told they walk the walk of shame because they wear the wrong shoes.
Has this country become so materialistic, so determined to always wear the “right” clothes, and live in the “right” neighborhood, drive the “right” car and eat the “right” foods, that it has no boundaries regarding other people’s feelings? Persuasion by humiliation is all around us, and every time I see an ad that appeals to envy and greed, to a desire for “status” and power, I wonder how we arrived at such an empty society when the sacrifices of WWII are only some seventy years behind us, and when wars in the Middle East kill and maim and cause PTSD in our military, wrecking the bodies, minds, hearts and souls of men and women who fight in wars for reasons some people don’t understand and others have no interest in. And yet, don’t their wounds and scars and deaths merit our serious attention? In my view, they do, but perhaps paying attention to the severe problems our country has is the mental equivalent of wearing the wrong shoes.
Can you imagine being parents living below the poverty line who want desperately to help their child or children “fit in”, but can’t afford the brand name shoes and pants and shirts and backpacks that grant entrance to approved groups? In the dark ages in which I grew up, no one wore clothes that advertised their maker. One NEVER asked or told what anything cost, nor were material objects considered measures of the worth of a human being.
When I hear or read of a child being bullied because he/she doesn’t have the “right” clothes or bike or whatever the current standard for acceptance is, I wonder how long we can pursue this downward slope until we have left civilized behavior behind and become total barbarians. And I think of all the depression and anxiety and anger generated by the false “values” of our society, and no longer wonder at the unrest in a nation which, in my view, has lost the capacity to “walk a mile in another’s shoes,” and thus wears the wrong ones.