In our modern society, people are often judgmental about anyone with different tastes, looks, or priorities. But people of integrity recognize that others have a right to be different, look different, or dress differently – and that includes those who choose to live barefoot.
Being barefoot has historically been considered respectful by most of the world’s religions, with shoe-wearing being disrespectful. And there’s no reason to ever see being barefoot as anything but a respectful way to live in this world.
Respect is treating others with kindness and without judgment
The word “respect” has many meanings. An internet search for a definition will reveal a myriad of interpretations of the word – both as a noun and a verb – as well as many examples of the use of the word.
One of the better definitions and discussions I’ve seen is on the website CogniFit, in which they state:
[Respect] is a concept that refers to the ability to value and honor another person, both his or her words and actions, even if we do not approve or share everything he or she does. It is accepting the other person and not trying to change them. Respecting another person is not judging them by their attitudes, behaviors or thoughts. It is not expecting for someone to be otherwise.
In other words, respect is basically following the Golden Rule: “Do unto others as you would have them do unto you.” It is a maxim that is found in many religions and cultures.
The general concept of respect therefore relates to how people treat one another. It does not relate to changing ones own basic principles, beliefs, or customs in order to conform to someone else’s personal likes, dislikes, or personal prejudices.
Not going barefoot out of ‘respect’ for others is not respect at all
Over the past almost two decades that I’ve been a full-time barefooter, I’ve sometimes heard or read something like this: “I like going barefoot, but I usually don’t do it in public as I respect that some people don’t like bare feet.”
Don’t go barefoot out of respect? What this is really saying is not that there’s any real respect involved in the usual sense of the word. Rather, it’s more like, “I acknowledgment certain people’s personal prejudices against bare feet, and due to my lack of confidence and self assurance, I fear those people thinking less of me if I don’t conform to their standards.”
Not only do I not respect that some people don’t like feet (because seriously, they need to get over it), but I especially don’t respect any expectation on their part that I should actually let their personal phobia determine my behavior.
Plus, respect is a two-way street. Unless they’ve given me some reason to feel otherwise, I respect others regardless of how they choose to dress, what they wear or don’t wear; and I expect them to treat me with the same respect. Respecting others does not mean you are supposed to change yourself or the way you look or dress in order to be exactly the same as others in appearance. Those who feel they must do that are usually doing it more out of a need for conformity based on their own personal insecurity rather than out of any so-called “respect.”
The idea of feeling you need to wear shoes out of “respect for those who don’t like bare feet” is truly a distortion of what respect is all about. It is similar to saying, for example:
“I respect that some people don’t like tattoos (so I’ll never get one or will keep it hidden if I do).”
“I respect that some people don’t like men wearing earrings or piercings (so I remove mine when going out in public).”
“I respect that some people don’t like to see long hair on men (so I always keep my hair cut short).”
“I respect that some people don’t like rap music (so I never let anyone hear me playing it).”
“I respect that some people don’t like Republicans (so I keep it a secret that I am one).”
“I respect that some people don’t believe in eating meat (so I will never let them see me eating meat).”
“I respect that some people don’t like Jews (so I would never reveal that I am one).”
“I respect that some people don’t believe in God (so I would never let anyone know that I do).”
“I respect that some people don’t like people of a different race (so I will never associate with anyone not of my own race).”
This list could go on and on. These are just a few examples of some things that make up human differences in various ways, but have no real effect, negative or otherwise, on any other person. None of the attributes or personal preferences included above do harm to any other person.
Trying to live your life in a constant struggle to always be like or look like those around you – because you’re afraid if you’re different in some way you may not be as well liked – is not only unhealthy, as a practical matter, it’s impossible. If some people “don’t like feet,” that is really their problem and their issue – sorry, I’m not going to reinforce their paranoia by showing any respect for it.
You don’t have to be exactly like some other person, or look or dress exactly like some other person, to show respect for that person.
Many religions consider shoes disrespectful in holy places
What does wearing shoes have to do with the concept of respect anyway? Shoes have historically been a sign of disrespect in many parts of the world. In some Middle Eastern countries, such as Iraq, throwing at or striking someone with a shoe is considered a grave insult to that person. Throughout history, almost all the religions of the world have considered bare feet as showing the greatest of respect as opposed to shoes. Shoes are commonly removed in holy places in many parts of the world.
One of the most well-known references related to bare feet as being the respectful option over shoes comes from the Bible. In Exodus 3:5 (KJV), God said to Moses, “… Draw not nigh hither: put off thy shoes from off thy feet, for the place whereon thou standest is holy ground.”
Later, in Joshua 5:15 (KJV), the same command was given to Joshua, “… Loose thy shoe from off thy foot; for the place whereon thou standest is holy. And Joshua did so.”
Today, many religions require removing shoes before entering a house of worship. Muslims remove their shoes before entering a mosque, Hindus and Buddhists remove their shoes before entering a temple, and Sikhs do the same before entering a gurdwara.
Even Christian churches in some parts of the world observe no shoes in their sanctuary rules. When my wife and I visited Fiji several years ago, one Sunday we attended services at a Christian church (Methodist). We were told in advance that no footwear of any kind was allowed inside Fijian churches. That was no problem for me, as I was barefoot anyway. Being barefoot is not unusual for many Fijians who normally go around barefoot anyway, but I did see a pile of sneakers and sandals just outside the church door. And everyone inside was barefoot, including the well-dressed minister.
Unfortunately, it seems that the majority of Christian churches, especially in the Western world, not only have abandoned the practice of going shoeless inside their churches but often even discourage bare feet. Their justifications for this vary, but generally follow the same myths and prejudicial misguided thinking about bare feet that pervades most of modern society.
In many countries such as Germany, Switzerland, Scandinavian countries, and others, it is common to take off shoes when entering someone’s home. The custom of removing shoes is widespread also in Eastern countries like Japan, Korea, and Turkey.
Removing shoes before entering a home is more a cultural than a religious tradition. But in places where it is customary, it is considered a mark of respect if guests do remove their shoes while entering a home. That is generally not a custom in most homes in the U.S., though some individuals have chosen to adopt a shoe removal at the door rule.
If bare feet are welcome – or required – in many religious places of worship and in many private homes, how could that be if there were something disrespectful about bare feet?
Feet are a normal, natural part of the human body, created by God (or nature or evolution if you prefer) – nothing to be ashamed of or hidden away from view.
Signs or rules requiring shoes are disrespectful
Being barefoot harms no one at all, therefore you are doing nothing wrong or disrespectful to anyone by being barefoot. But should you respect others who attempt to control your choice of no footwear?
A rude sign posted at the door of a store telling you that you are not welcome if you are not dressed in a certain way is the ultimate in disrespect. Barefooters are doing nothing wrong or illegal. Yet some businesses – established and licensed to serve the public – due to the prejudice and bigotry of its owners or managers decide to post signs that in effect say, “We don’t want your kind here because we don’t like your choice of dress.” They may have a legal right to do that, but regardless, it is disrespectful to the public.
It isn’t much different in principle from signs of a few years ago reading, “No colored allowed.” I’ve actually seen those signs in my younger days as a child. They had a right to post such signs then, but did that make it right to do it? They have a right to post dress code signs now, but does that make it right to do it?
I wrote an article specifically about such signs a while back, “‘No bare feet’ signs are similar to the racist signs of the past.”
Bare feet harm no one, are a healthy and completely legal personal choice, and are in no way disrespectful to anyone. It is those who would attempt to deny you your right to be barefoot who are being disrespectful. Barefooters are just trying to live their lives in peace and be treated like anyone else, without being forced to dress or look a certain way in order to be treated like any other customer.
Respect indeed is a two-way street. When business owners disrespect people by posting rude, discriminatory dress code signs requiring shoes or refuse entry or service to someone only because they are barefoot, such actions do not deserve anyone’s respect.
Enjoyed reading this article as usual Kriss. I’m not convinced that religious institutions requiring removal of shoes fits the logic of your argument though, although your reasoning is correct. If I understand your logic, your overall premise for what constitutes respect is based on an individual’s right to choose. However the requirement for shoe removal in holy places out of respect is based on completely different premises. I’m also interested in the idea of being barefoot out of respect for the environment. Partly because living barefoot reduces your consumption, and particularly in ‘natural’ environments, walking barefoot leaves less of a… Read more »
Thanks for the comment. I didn’t intend for the many religious institutions’ custom of removing shoes to be the main focus or reason for my point that bare feet are respectful, but only an obvious example in many parts of the world. My premise also was not so much an individual’s right to choose per se as a basis for respect, but that when those choices do no harm to anyone or anything, it’s those choices (to be barefoot in particular) that should be respected. A choice to smoke cigarettes in public, for example, does in fact do harm to… Read more »
I enjoyed reading your post.. Profound.
Wow! Those monks Barefeet are beautiful to view… As most Barefooters Feet are!
I think part of “anti-barefoot culture” has more to do with liability (or perceived liability) than with bare feet being respectful/disrespectful or aesthetic reasons. If a barefoot person had a foot-related injury in a shop and sued the owner, the law would not be in favor of the shop owner because the owner didn’t require people to wear shoes on their property to mitigate any real (or perceived) risks of injury. That’s how the law would view the situation because our culture has shaped it to believe that bare feet are a high-injury and health-hazard risk (even though it might… Read more »
Thanks for the comment, Leah. I agree that in most cases, business owners or managers feel that their potential liability is a major reason to exclude barefooters. But those that think that are very misinformed about the law and how liability for customer injuries actually works. It is highly unlikely that any business would ever be held liable for a customer’s injury as long as it was not due to gross negligence on the part of the business – in other words, being aware of an unsafe condition and doing nothing about it (not exercising duty of care). The potential… Read more »
I never thought being barefoot was disrespectful. I try to respect all people for who they are. I go barefoot everywhere almost all the time. I do find it strange how sometimes I am asked to wear shoes despite it being harmless. As a 54 year old man who has gone barefooted for over 30 years, I find most people are either indifferent or they make positive comments to me about my bare feet. I also practice yoga, meditate and feel spiritually connected to the earth through my bare feet. So I don’t think people should be afraid or bothered… Read more »
Thanks for the comment, Neil. You are right on! I myself very rarely get any comments about my bare feet. But if so, they’re almost always just friendly questions out of curiosity.
Hello, me and my family have been going barefoot for over a year now. (NO SHOES EVER). Yes we have had some stores say something but we respectfully tell them it is part of our religious beliefs and they leave us alone. Now I have called corporate and explained to them that we were asked to leave and told them everything. And just asked them to just talk to people involved and tell them they can’t discrimination against people’s religious beliefs. And now most stores won’t say a word to people and no shoes. We are proud of our connection… Read more »
I’m not against barefooters but in my line of work I have to stop people and ask them to put some kind of foot wear on. If someone tells me it’s their religion I have to ask which religion and get proof of their religious creed
Tracy, what line of work are you in that you are required to treat people with such disrespect? No one’s bare feet could possibly do any harm to you personally or to whatever business you may be connected with.