The phrase “to walk a mile in someone else’s shoes” takes on great significance after reading Martin Luther King, Jr.’s “Letter from Birmingham Jail” and Peter-Hans Kolvenbach’s “Service of Faith and Promotion of Justice in Jesuit Higher Education.” This phrase is commonly used as a means to encourage quick consideration of what it would or could be like to live some aspect of one’s life differently. These writings blast apart this limited interpretation and build this phrase into the definition of how to view every facet of life. Kolvenbach’s and King’s works ask their readers to not merely put on the shoes of the minorities they write about, but try on the whole outfit and then go over to the house of the oppressed for dinner. King and Kolvenbach demand that the reader change to a permanent, intimate point of view which looks through the eyes of those suffering around us until injustice disappears from our world.
The question of why we, as an able society, allow suffering to continue around us is raised by both Kolvenbach and King in their respective writings. The injustice in the world, whether it manifests itself as poverty or segregation, is avoidable; if everyone with the means to bring about justice acted, equality could easily be attained. We allow injustice to continue because we have the luxury of doing so. We can ignore the turmoil that fills headlines and swirls around us every day simply because we do not have to directly experience it. Kolvenbach and MLK call on their readers to slip out of this complacency and “let the gritty reality of this world into their lives” (Kolvenbach 35). In order to act in solidarity we must understand those whom we serve to the greatest extent that can be attained; understanding can be reached only through viewing the world from the perspective of those who suffer. We should transport ourselves into the state of the individual we wish to serve in much the same way we strive as travelers to experience foreign lands as the locals do. The reality that we surround ourselves in is a false one and to truly eradicate injustice we must admit this as the truth. King and Kolvenbach ask their readers to break down the walls of this false reality. The truth that slips in through the chinks will never be enough to motivate the general population to act on the behalf of the humans in this world who still suffer from injustice.