Why I choose a Barefoot Lifestyle

Question: Where are your shoes?

Answer: I don’t wear shoes.

Question: Why?

What a good question! It is the question that always stops me in my tracks, captures my attention, and will most probably result in a 10 minute conversation with anybody who is brave enough to ask it. So allow me to engage with you for a few minutes on why I choose to go barefoot almost all of the time.

The initial motivation to go barefoot was purely functional; I simply feel more comfortable not wearing shoes than wearing shoes. The discomfort of walking barefoot was lighter than the comfort of shoes but the loss of connection. I love the feel of air over my feet, the textures underfoot, and the way your body responds to the connection with the environment. Thinking back the seeds of the answer to the why was there from the start.

The four plus one reason I am going barefoot is as follows, in no particular order:

  • Creating an awareness of eco-justice issues,
  • Creating an awareness of socio-justice issues,
  • An anti-consumerism action,
  • It slows me down,
  • And the plus one; in my opinion it is the healthier way to live (at least in most situations)

Creating an awareness of eco-justice issues

Humankind is part of an immense web of life. It seems that most of us can agree at least to this. The sad reality is that it seems that we as humans have somehow elevated ourselves to the pinnacle of this web of life, part of yes, but certainly the very top part, the most important part; to some extent, not part of at all but instead wholly different. And in this process we have succeeded in destroying whole parts of the web, for example the nine species of Moa in New Zealand, the Dodo on Mauritius, the Passenger Pigeon of the great plains of North America, and the Bluebuck from Africa to mention only a few. It seems that, although we are intrinsically a part of the web of life, we have the unique ability to knowingly destroy parts of the web. We pollute the very water we, as well as every part of the web of life, are dependent on, we kill species to extinction for the benefit, even luxury of a few, we transform biodiversity into deserts of monoculture or barren wastelands of brick and mortar, and we create doomed islands of species populations where the same species once celebrated life in all fecundity. This list is not even remotely exhaustive; the history of mankind is littered with example on example of how we have an apparent near suicidal disregard for the web of life as a whole.

I go barefoot so that we remember that which is underfoot and to remind us to tread lightly.

Creating an awareness of social-justice issues

The apparent disregard that we have for the intricate web of life does not stop at the way we treat other species but seems to shape the way that we treat other people as well. Poverty is a reality that most of us face every day, maybe not as a part of our own lived experiences, but certainly at the corner of traffic lights, on early morning and late night drives from or to home. It confronts us when we see a hunger child begging or a homeless person settling down in a doorway for another cold and uncomfortable night. We turn a blind eye to the part that we play in upholding a system that creates haves and have-nots. We find ways not to make eye contact with the person standing with cupped hands begging or argue that giving hand-outs perpetuates the problem rather than solve it. We use this excuse to not give at all, not to the person nor to those who might make a difference. And if we give, we give money; because it is easy and clean, soothes our consciences and helps us avoid the harsh reality of poverty, the poor, the marginalized, and the oppressed.

I go barefoot so that we remember to treat others with dignity, respect and compassion.

Anti-consumerism action

It seems that society moved from valuing substance to valuing labels. What we wear, what we drive, where we live, what we earn et cetera seems to be the primary criteria in deciding one’s place in society. This approach to evaluating people purely focuses on external criteria and fails to give any credence to the internal gravitas of a person or persons. It seems that the equation holds true, the more money you have, the better labels you wear, the more society can see your wealth, the higher society values you as an individual. Going barefoot challenges this construct. It constantly and non-verbally asks if the criteria we use to attribute value to people are a valid one. People intrinsically have value because of who they are, not because of their net worth. The challenge is to remember not to fall into the label fallacy, but to treat everyone with equal respect and compassion. Stuff does not matter nearly as much as we think it does, in actual fact, more often than not less is indeed more. It might even be true that when we choose to leave the status equals stuff equals happiness behind and opt for a simpler approach to life we’ll find that living a life of simplicity and frugality increases our self worth as well as our sense of well-being and happiness.

I go barefoot so that we remember that labels don’t matter and that less is more.

It slows me down

“People are born and married, and live and die, in the midst of an uproar so frantic that you would think they would go mad of it” A quote from William Dean Howells that seem to capture the reality of our every day rushed lives. The catch, William Dean Howells said this in 1907, and since then the speed of lives as steadily increased. It seems that the best way to describe the era we are living in as the ‘age of rage’, where speed is of the essence, people suffer from “time-sickness”, and life is reduced to a superficial experience in service of the economy. Going barefoot helps me to slow down, to walk slower, and to take note of where I put my feet. Slowing down is an inevitable result of living barefoot, however to me it is also the biggest challenge. Going fast-er seems to be ingrained in every aspect of our lives, so much so that slowing down becomes an intentional lifestyle decision. One which influences the way we eat, the way we dress, the way we drive, the way we spend time with others, and the way we think to mention only a few.

I go barefoot so that we remember to slow down and breathe.

Plus 1: The healthier option

The science is still out, but it seems from personal testimonies that going barefoot has a number of health benefits. These include physical, psychological, and emotional improvement in health. At the very least going barefoot helps in the alignment of our skeleton as a whole and specifically our spines, it improves balance and blood flow, as well as strengthening and stretching the muscles, tendons and ligaments in our feet, ankles, and calves; it increases a feeling of emotional and psychological well-being, decrease anxiety and depression, and creates a feeling of connectedness to our environment. Even without conclusive evidence that proofs the health benefits of going barefoot I think it would be safe to argue that barefoot is the most natural way to live. We weren’t born with shoes on our feet!

I go barefoot so that we remember that everything society creates is not beneficial to our health.

I hope this starts to answer the Why?

 

 

National Barefoot Day – South Africa

18 June 2014 is National Barefoot Day in South Africa. Taking a leaf out of the TOMS book, the National Barefoot Day which is organized by The Put Foot Foundation, urges South Africans to go barefoot for a day in order to highlight the plight of millions of underprivileged children who live every day without shoes. The Put Foot Foundation adds the word indignity to the plight of these children. Their mission statement: ‘Giving young, under-privileged children hope, pride, and dignity through a pair of brand new, 100% leather, quality, South African-made school shoes’. The message seems clear; going barefoot is something to be ashamed of, steals your hope, and going barefoot is simply not something to be proud of. Luckily the answer is fairly straight forward; let’s buy shoes for every underprivileged child who does not own shoes.

And this is the problem. We are not really solving the problem. Yes it is true that many children don’t have shoes, and yes, they do feel shamed by their lack of shoes. However, I am not so sure that funding, buying, and distributing shoes to these children are the answer. It might just be that there are bigger issues at hand. For example, why don’t we choose to address the prejudices of a society that connects the values of hope, pride, and dignity with the wearing of shoes? Won’t we do our children, and not only underprivileged children, a huge favour by teaching them that the essential values of hope, pride, and dignity are not found in the stuff that you own, including shoes.  Is it not much more important for children to learn that they should not judge others based on the quality, the kind of, or lack of attire; indeed that they should not judge at all. Surely this is a lesson that cannot be out grown and will stand them in good stead for the rest of their lives?

It is this inherent and underlying connection between pride and dignity and the wearing of shoes, which chafes so many barefooters in the world; to the extent that TOMS International One Day Without Shoes is called a hoax and a scam. They rightly argue that a healthier society is one where people can go barefoot if it is their choice, without struggling to enter shops, being frowned upon in public places, forced to wear shoes at work et cetera. But before we as barefooters vilify The Put Foot Foundations and the TOMS initiatives to quickly, let’s take a step back for a moment.

Although I disagree with the connection that The Put Foot Foundation establishes between the wearing of shoes and the dignity of a person, I have to applaud their efforts to shoe underprivileged children in South Africa. I know it seems like a contradiction to my argument above as well as my choice to live life barefoot. However, not everyone, and definitely not every child, live in the same environments that I do. To a large extent my privileged environment makes it possible to live barefoot. Most of the places I travel are serviced by decent municipal services; I do not have to walk through uncollected garbage, open and running sewage streams, stagnant water pools et cetera. I have warm clothes to wear on the coldest of days, although I even then choose not to wear shoes. Going barefoot to me is a choice, the children that The Put Foot Foundation tries to shoe does not have a choice; their default setting is barefoot. A photo, accompanying an article in the Sunday Times, paints the picture that the metaphorical thousand words cannot.

Image

Primary school children who, because the lack of governance, have to use toilets in some of the worst conditions I can imagine. It is conditions like these that steal the hope, pride, and dignity of children. The lack of shoes just add discomfort, and disease to their, already challenged, lives. It is in situations like these that the short term solution is indeed to give each and every child that live in these conditions a pair of shoes. But that is only the start, once you have given each of these children a pair of shoes, eliminated discomfort and disease from their lives, at least to some extent, the real job starts. The improvement of the basic living and educational conditions of these children as well as the education of a society that being shod is not more dignified than going barefoot.

It might just be that being shod is a pure societal construct that, in most cases, are detrimental to the health of most individuals, as well as society as a whole. If we go barefoot for a day to this end, it might just be a small step in the right direction.