Do You Tread on Others’ Toes Needlessly?
DO YOU? To tread on the toes has been defined as “to give offense unintentionally by encroaching on one’s rights or privileges, wounding in a tender spot, and so forth”; “to give offense.”
Note that the emphasis is on needlessly treading on others’ toes. Any person of righteous principles and with strong convictions is certain to offend some. That has been true of all lovers of righteousness from Abel on down to our day, and of none more than of Jesus Christ, the Son of God. They all could have spared themselves much suffering and difficulty had they been willing to compromise. But where principle is involved one may not be unduly concerned about offending those who have no love of righteousness.—Matt. 15:12-14.
However, in our everyday relations it usually is not a matter of principle but simply one of thoughtlessly or unwittingly giving offense. It is as though we did not realize how big our own feet were or failed to yield enough of the path to the other fellow.
There are ever so many little ways in which we might be treading on the toes of others. Some are sensitive about their age, weight, health or some physical defect, such as a birthmark or an unusually large nose. To call attention to any such tender spot, and especially to make a joke of it, certainly would be treading on their toes. Thoughtfulness in such instances will be repaid by conscious or unconscious gratitude.
A very talkative person is likely to tread on others’ toes, and especially if his talk is gossip. Said a wise king: “In the abundance of words there does not fail to be transgression.” “The foolish one speaks many words.” The more the words the less the care with which they are uttered and so the greater the likelihood of their offending others.—Prov. 10:19; Eccl. 10:14.
In fact, one may needlessly offend by one’s very choice of words; either too high-toned and artificial or coarse and vulgar. Even by their tone of voice some tread on the toes of others, it being haughty, condescending or harsh and rasping. Off-color jokes as well as “practical” jokes are certain to wound some. Carelessness regarding personal hygiene, such as bad breath or body odor, or smoking tobacco where a sign plainly says “No Smoking” will cause one to tread on the olfactory toes of others. Actually, any breach of good manners, any tactlessness, will cause one to err.
A person may be treading on others’ toes repeatedly and yet not be aware of it, due to the diffidence of his friends. But God’s Word says: “Better is a revealed reproof than a concealed love.” Friends often shrink from giving reproof because of fear as to how it might be taken. Paradoxically, the ones prone to tread on the toes of others are usually those most sensitive themselves; the most tactless expecting the most tact on the part of others.—Prov. 27:5.
If your best friends will not tell you, how can you know? By the way they act toward you. They may be polite, tactful, seemingly friendly, but withal a bit cautious so as not to tread on your toes. Not feeling free in your presence, they are not likely to take you into their inner sanctum of friendship and make you the recipient of special expressions of love. Your outstanding qualities are ignored because of your treading on their toes.
What causes one to tread on the toes of others? Basically it is a lack of empathy, an inability to put oneself in the shoes of others, as it were; a lack of understanding, of sensitive mental discernment; in short, a lack of neighbor love. This may be due to a lack of knowledge of the customs of a people or of the circumstances of a particular individual. Or it may be due to one’s being very much an extrovert. Such a one often lacks in sensitive mental discernment and so finds the discomforts, handicaps or suffering of others amusing, especially if such happen to be introverted. For this reason it has been said that to label persons as extroverted or introverted is just another way of saying that some are thick-skinned and others thin-skinned. The golden mean is to be what is termed ambiverted, avoiding both extremes, not readily giving nor quickly taking offense.
The critical perfectionist is also likely to tread on others’ toes because of a lack of empathy. Instead of appreciating and praising the good points, he sees and comments upon only the weak points, the flaws, thus treading needlessly on others’ toes. Because of his critical nature he misses many opportunities to give a helping hand.
The same may be said about those that harp on efficiency. They often are so concerned with punctuality, orderliness or economy that they become blind to the need of fellow feeling, to human values. In the family circle it might work something like this: The wife prepares a special meal and the husband grumbles about the cost. Or he brings home a gift and she complains about the extravagance. Lacking in empathy, both overlook the fact that going beyond prudence is just the thing that love requires at times to express itself!
Nor may we overlook that all manner of prejudices betray a lack of empathy and cause some to tread on others’ toes. By one’s tone of voice, words and actions one might betray a deep-seated prejudice, thereby touching tender spots. To whatever the prejudice may be due—difference in color, nationality, economic or educational level—it is the very antithesis of empathy, betraying an utter inability to put oneself in the shoes of others.
There is so much suffering in this old world, so much misunderstanding and unhappiness. Let us not add to it by needlessly stepping on others’ toes. Rather, let us try to grasp the way others think and feel about things; the more others differ from us the more we need to be on guard, and this also applies to the basic differences of the sexes.
God’s Word is filled with good counsel along this line, such as: “Clothe yourselves with the tender affections of compassion, kindness, lowliness of mind, mildness.” “Go on walking in wisdom” and “let your utterance be always with graciousness.” Heed this counsel and you will not tread on others’ toes—needlessly.—Col. 3:12; 4:5, 6.