The Empathy Museum is dedicated to helping people see the world from a different perspective, through another person’s eyes. Launched in 2015, it has used a series of participatory arts projects that focus on storytelling, presenting the true stories of individuals in a manner that informs a visitor on the true impact of prejudice, conflict and inequality.
And a visit to ‘A Mile in My Shoes’ is an experience that I would highly recommend.
I went along to where the Empathy Museum has popped up, in the form of a giant shoe box, in a car park outside the Migration Museum.
When I arrived I was asked what my shoe size was, and handed a shoe box. At ‘A Mile in My Shoes’, you quite literally are given a pair of someone else’s shoes to walk in. It’s a slightly surreal experience. I took off my shoes and put on the pair I had been presented with, which came with a set of headphones and an MP3 player containing a recording from the person who owned these shoes.
The shoes were brown leather, size 8, slip on boots. They were sturdy but not the most comfortable for me. They belonged to Ray, but I only knew this because it was stuck on to the media player.
And I walked, and I listened. The thing about physically walking in someone else’s shoes is that you are aware with every step that you take that these are not your shoes; like when you’re wearing in a new pair and they haven’t yet moulded to your feet. They pinch in different places, but they don’t ‘not fit’, because that’s something Ray and I have in common, we both have size 8 feet. Ray’s story too, doesn’t fit me. It caused a rollercoaster of emotions, at points it makes me feel uncomfortable and incredibly sad that someone can go through such hardship. Yes I have my struggles because everyone does, but they fade in comparison. Hearing Ray’s story also makes me feel privileged, because I’m walking in her shoes and she’s sharing her story with me and that’s special because we are strangers. Her story is important.
Ray also highlighted the difference that support from others can make. That doing small things for people in desperate situations can help. That getting support from people who did not need to help you, but do anyway, is important. And with the combination of the shoes and Ray’s story I didn’t walk a whole mile, but I did understand and share her feelings, which can be summed up in the word empathy.
This is arguably one of the most powerful museum visits that I have had. I’ve thought about Ray quite a lot since. I would love to go back; there are more stories to hear from refugees and migrants who have made London their home, from a Syrian dentist to a Nigerian barber.
Thank you Ray.
A Mile in My Shoes at the Empathy Museum is currently open 8-25th February 2018, Wednesday- Sunday 11-5pm. Admission is free. You can also heard a selection of the stories on the museum’s SoundCloud playlist, which can be accessed from their website.