Responses to Barefooting in Public

Thirteen years ago I decided not to wear shoes regularly any longer (hence: BarefootBetsy) and over these last 13 years I’ve gotten many different reactions to barefooting in public.

Most people who see me barefoot in public think it’s pretty cool and ask questions. I’m usually happy to answer respectful questions. I think that many people who would benefit from going barefoot or who secretly want to wear shoes less often likely do not eschew shoes in public because they believe some of the many myths our culture has created around barefootedness.

So dispelling those myths is something I typically enjoy doing.

Then there are the concerned people who worry about me getting hurt or my feet being cold or hot or otherwise uncomfortable. Their concerns are easily addressed. I’ve personally experienced no negatives to barefooting over many years so I can be pretty positive about it. Yes, there can be drawbacks (like having strangers feel entitled to comment on my lack of footwear whether I want them to or not) and there are absolutely times when shoes are beneficial (shoes are tools, after all!) just like there are times when gloves are beneficial.

But, by far, the most ridiculous responses are from people who think that they need to give me incorrect information in order to get me to wear shoes. I’ve mainly had this issue with staff at various establishments. These have primarily been staff at grocery stores, hotels, and professional offices.

These people will give me all kinds of reasons why I should wear shoes in their establishment, but the two most common are:

 

1 – It’s dangerous for you to be in here without shoes! We’re liable for your safety!

Um, well, I run miles at a time on pavement barefoot and walk around in big cities barefoot so…. if your establishment is really more hazardous to my feet than those activities, you’ve likely got more serious issues going on than whether or not I’m wearing shoes.

Also, I always offer to sign a waiver when people bring this up. I’m more than happy to take 100% responsibility for any potential injuries I might incur due to being barefoot on private property. Not a problem.

However, employees of establishments have never been willing to sign a waiver taking responsibility for any injuries I may incur in their establishment due to wearing shoes. I used to twist my ankles frequently before I started barefooting regularly. Shoes are more slippery than bare feet and it’s more difficult to tell when a floor is slippery with the tactile input dulled through the sole of the shoe. If I’m being required to wear shoes somewhere that I need to be, then it makes sense that they should be willing to take responsibility for their policy’s potential injurious effects on me.

Yet… they never have and always seem shocked when I politely suggest that they might offer to do so.

 

2 – The Health Department/OSHA requires that you wear shoes in here!

This is simply a bold-faced lie in the USA. No state or federal health department requires customers to wear shoes in establishments (food or otherwise) and most county Health Departments follow the state regulations.

OSHA only regulates what employees wear, not what customers wear. Interestingly enough, I’ve never had any issues in restaurants other than once in a McDonald’s many years ago. Typically, the nicer the establishment, the less likely they are to hassle me about shoes.

 

Truly, I’d much rather people just be honest than to tell lies about “government authorities require that we require you to wear shoes.”

Own the fact that you have a discriminatory policy for no good reason (since the safety and liability concerns don’t apply in my case). Own that you just want me to wear shoes because it makes you or your customers uncomfortable or nervous. Own that you might have have unconscious prejudices and biases against bare feet. Maybe examine what those might be.

In the end, I’m far more likely to respect someone who says, “Yeah, we just require shoes because I or the owner prefers it.” without giving any other reason. At least they’re being honest. Because there’s no other good reason for me to wear shoes somewhere that I’ve scoped out and deemed safe for my feet. Their personal preference-based policy, no matter how politely presented, may still result in me taking my business somewhere else; but at least I respect the people who give me that sort of answer.

Giving me reasons that don’t apply to me (especially when you then resort to false appeals to authority once you realize that none of your reasons apply to me) makes it all the more likely that I will never darken your door with my money again. I don’t take kindly to being “protected” from my own harmless decisions by random falsehood-prone employees who don’t even know me.

I’ve been doing this for 13 years. I know what I’m doing. Don’t bs me about your reasons. I’ve heard it all before and will hear it all again soon, no doubt.

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Judging Parents by Their Own Behavior

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Subtitle: Parents Behaving Badly

There’s a trend in our society that has always bothered me somewhat. We compliment parents when their children are well-behaved and we, likewise, condemn them when their children are ill behaved. Given that nobody can completely control anyone else’s behavior, why aren’t we judging the parents on their own behavior instead of on the behavior of their children?

Yes, parents absolutely do need to be teaching their children how to behave in public and how to handle themselves in various situations, but the idea that one person (even a parent) either can or should have such complete control over another person (even a child)’s behavior is just a bit troubling to me. Teaching someone is not the same thing as controlling them is and when we judge parents by their children’s behavior, there seems to be an implicit assumption that the parents should be controlling those children and keeping them under control!

Before even mentioning any practical issues regarding children and their behavior in public, I think that it’s important to recognize that children are people too. They have good days and bad days. They have days when they eat too much sugar, too little food, or miss a nap and go bonkers in the grocery store or other public place. Children, just like adults, are prone to lose their tempers, get grumpy, become frustrated, and lash out.

Children also possess far less impulse control than adults do, which is why it rather puzzles me that we, as a society, seem to expect children to behave even better in public than we expect their parents to behave.

Often, children’s inappropriate behavior is precipitated by an unwise decision on the part of the parents (like taking a young child shopping during naptime), but we should hold the parents accountable for their unfortunate decision rather than the reaction of their child to the parents’ ill conceived decision (a possible meltdown or tantrum during the aforementioned naptime shopping trip).

Truly, I think that this expectation, that parents should be “in control” or “controlling” their children’s behavior causes a lot of bad behavior on the part of parents themselves. In an effort to show their children as well as everyone around them that they are “in control” or “doing something about” their children’s bad behavior, parents will often resort to threats or even physical violence against their children.

Public threats and physical violence are not something that we tolerate from any other group of people other than parents when the threats and physical violence (spanking) are directed at their children.

Why is this? Why is it socially acceptable for parents to lose their tempers and threaten and yell at or even hit their children in public?

I think it’s because we, as a society, also believe that such threats and violence establish the parents’ appearance of “control” over their children, which is more acceptable to us than seeing children behaving like children and being taught respectfully how to behave in public or being removed from a situation when it has proven to be too much for them at this time.

I think that it would be more productive for parents to be judged by their own behavior. I’d far rather see a parent calmly handling the issue of a tantrum-ing child in public, trying to figure out the underlying issue and treating the child with respect, than to see a parent lose control themselves while dealing with an out of control child.

How can we expect children to exhibit self-control in public most or all of the time when we, as parents, cannot even exhibit perfect self-control in public all of the time?

Practically speaking, I don’t believe we can.

I think that we need to have more grace and patience for children in public situations. I think that we need to recognize that they are people and that when their basic needs aren’t met, they are going to react badly to situations, just as any adult would except more so because they don’t have the impulse control or experience to handle situations as well as adults should be able to.

I think that we need to better support parents in teaching their children with grace and patience so that they don’t feel the need to react in a heavy-handed manner to their children’s childish behavior, whether in public or private.

In somewhat related news, I rather enjoyed this article by the Onion this week. Sometimes there’s just so much truth in satire… 😉

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