Sonntag, 2. Dezember 2012

Did this policeman ruin it for winter barefooters?

This picture is now all over the internet as well as featured in TV news worldwide as the Samaritan act of the month. NYPD officer Lawrence DePrimo, working on a counterterrorism post, saw a barefoot homeless man sitting on 42nd Street near Times Square and saw that the man's feet had suffered blistering damage from hypothermia. Without second thought, he went into a nearby shoe store, buying socks and boots out of his own purse and gave them to the man.

According to the NY Times, the homeless man's face lit up on seeing the gift, and he most politely thanked the officer, before walking away in his new boots.

Thanks to a tourist from Arizona who snapped the pictures with her cell phone, this act of kindness, normally unnoticed, found its way into the tangles of the world wide web and has been clicked on, liked and shared on social networks hundreds of thousands of times.

Just as we enter the advent holiday season, such an act and the picture of it, perfectly fit the mood to warm the heart of people, making them go "Aww!"

Now, most news media were stressing the fact, that the homeless man was barefoot and that socks and shoes were given to him. Being a barefooter myself, my automatic initial reaction to shoes is "they're bad!", which makes me walk barefoot as often as possible, including in the colder seasons. I have found shoes to be detrimental to my gait, causing pain in my ankles, knees, hip and back, when I have to wear them for a longer period of time. Walking barefoot alleviates those symptoms by making me walk in a more natural way. To me (as well as to many barefooters around the world), shoes are merely tools to protect us from the effects of cold or from dangerous environments. In this sense, Officer DePrimo did just the right thing by buying the homeless man socks and shoes to protect his feet from the cold (I hope, he also got him something to treat the blisters... otherwise, the chafing inside socks and shoes will cause him more pain than good!).

Now, about the initial question in the title of this posting: did Officer De Primo ruin it for winter barefooters? Are more people now approaching those who choose walking barefoot in colder weather just for happiness and health reasons, in order to perform another Samaritan act?

Regardless of the seasons, most mainstream people view barefoot walkers as being weird, crazy or even still believe the old cliché of barefoot people being poor or homeless. Very often, gapes of disbelief, disapproval, sneers and snide remarks are what barefooters all over the world encounter and have to endure. Not to mention, that the old myths of bare feet being unsanitary, driving a car barefoot is illegal or health department regulations prohibiting barefoot customers in shops and restaurants still exist and prevail in the people's minds.
There are various interest groups on the internet, ready to inform interested people about the facts, debunking myths and pointing out the health benefits of walking barefoot.

On the positive side of perception and interpretation, walking barefoot is a sign of being a free spirit, of reliving the innocence and playfulness of childhood, when playing barefoot on summer grass, splashing bare feet in puddles or burying our bare toes in mud were part of a happy life. On the negative side, people associate bare feet with blatant nonconformism, not obeying the rules of society, and being one of the "dirty, barefoot hippies" who once protested against war and lived a crazy life, full of drugs, sects and immorality.

Most mainstream people I encounter when being barefoot around town, react in the sense of that negative perception, believing that I'm just a weird and crazy dirty-soled hippie... Actually, that is not untrue in a sense, since I do believe in the values and virtues of the original hippies: unconditional love and compassion, peace, a strong spiritual connection to all kindred gentle souls and our great Mother Nature. And especially that connection to the Earth is best done by touching Her with my bare soles.

Therefore, I take pride in being called weird or crazy.

And a lot of barefoot people out there are of the same spirit. There are, however, also people of the more "mainstream" sort who walk barefoot mainly for the health reasons. They do not belong to the "hippie" category at all, but share the same reasons for walking barefoot: health and happiness. And they're facing the same reactions and prejudice.

Some of them have already been approached by police officers in the colder seasons, asking them if everything was alright and making sure that they're not some funny farm inmates on a barefoot day-out. I had that happening to me, too, when a police officer on a motorcycle drove past me twice, then stopped, dismounted to ask me, whether I was alright, if my feet were cold, etc., and then checked my ID. After he was sure that I wasn't on the loose from an asylum, jail or hospital, he went on his way. Of course, I told him, that I prefer walking barefoot for health reasons, since it improves natural gait and lessens strain and pain on my joints... but still, he remained a skeptic.

I just hope, that Lawrence DePrimo did not set a precedent to apporach cold-weather barefooters in general as possible homeless and poor people whose bare feet just call out to be shod, reinforcing the prejudice of bare feet meaning poverty.

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