How Many Feet In A Mile – Truly Understanding What It Means To Walk A Mile In Someone Else’s Shoes

To get through the hardest journey we need take only one step at a time, but we must keep on stepping.
~ Chinese proverb

I thought I’d have some fun with this post which is to answer the literal question of how many feet in a mile but also to look at the figurative question behind this concrete answer. To answer the literal question first, there are 5,280 feet in a land mile. In a nautical mile there are 6,076.12 feet (rounded up).

If you’re interested and as an aside, the mile comes to us from ancient Rome. When the Romans conquered Britain long, long ago, they bought with them their way of measuring.

They had what they called a mille pasuum (me-lay pa-sue-em) which was considered 1,000 paces. And from what we know, a pace was about 5 Roman feet (size 11 wide – I’m kidding, we’re just talking averages).

Okay, so now you’re asking yourself well, then if the Romans gave us the mile and it consisted of 1,000 of their paces with each pace being 5 feet why isn’t the mile a nice and even 5,000 feet long? Good question and we have the Brits to thank for that. If you’ve ever tried to figure out British money in the old days, you’ll know how strange their mathemagics can get.

So the Romans eventually left Britain, but their mile had left its mark (pun intended) and yet the Brits has their own measurement of the furlong which was used in agriculture and property deeds. They were an agrarian folk back then.

A furlong came to be agreed as the length of a furrow plower in a common field. A common field was agreed to be a square of 10 acres long. So this furrow and hence furlong came to be agreed to as 660 feet or 220 yards. A yard is 3 feet – let’s not get started on yards just now.

So the Brits wanted to marry the mile with the furlong. They wanted it to be one eigth of a mile, or equivalent to the Roman stadium which was a measure of length that was 1/8 of a mile – the Roman’s mile – long.

But if a furlong is 660 feet then multiplying that by 8 you get 5,280 feet. So they decided to make the new mile 5,280 feet long.

This makes sense when you consider that their furlong was part of their legal and property system, so changing a furlong to make it fit into the Roman mile would across the board shorten the property areas of everyone. Can you say RIOT 🙂

Anyway, that’s the literal answer to what is a mile. But when take a look at 5,280 feet in a mile and if we take the saying “to walk a mile in someone’s shoes”, we get the sense of just how one that is.

But more importantly it is about empathy and compassion. Walking a literal mile in someone’s shoes might be uncomfortable or awkward depending on their shoe size, but if you think about walking a mile in someone’s shoes figuratively you might gain a greater perspective about that person and their difficulties.

We are all broken to some degree and as Leonard Cohen said, that is how the light gets in.

What this world is in desperate need of is a big heaping dose of understanding. I have heard it said that if everyone’s difficulties and struggles and hardships were like luggage, and we all put our “luggage” in a circle. And if we could each take our time to choose any of that “luggage” we wanted, most of us would take our own “luggage” (difficulties, hardships and struggles) back.

This is telling. It tells me that we shouldn’t feel envious or jealous of others as we don’t fully understand their journey and the difficulties they carry with them.

It also tells me that if we really understood one another we would have far more compassion for each other. And we can understand each other better. We can start taking mental journeys of a mile in each other’s shoes.

Before you are too quick to judge, why not take a moment to think about where that other person is coming from. Imagine for a moment what their backstory might be. Might they be broken too? And if they are broken, the light of their soul is coming through somewhere. Just look for it.

I am continuously amazed at how well most everyone responds to a small act and gesture of kindness and understanding.

Indeed, I believe we desperately want to be understood. And through understanding each other we can learn to help one another and create a real and lasting peace.

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