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In Defense of Shoes

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Go to your favorite hiking trail. Walk down the path, then sit down for a moment and take off your shoes and socks. Keep walking.

Notice where your eyes go.

If you’re anything like me, or the people I’ve watched perform this same exercise, your eyes go directly to the path in front of you. Sharp rocks wait to slice your foot open, introducing hookworms or bacteria into your bloodstream. Tree roots have grown across the path plotting a stubbed toe for every passerby. Acorns roll onto the trail from a nearby oak, lying in wait to do some damage to those tender arches. The path, no matter how well-trod, is rife with danger. So you keep your eyes peeled to avoid even the tiniest obstacles.

But Think About Where Your Eyes Aren’t.

No longer are you surveying the landscape for a hidden predator. No longer are you keeping your eyes peeled for a blackberry patch or a rabbit, frozen by the appearance of a potential enemy. No longer are you thinking of how beautiful it is to see the blooms of a wild cherry tree as the wind rustles their tiny petals. No, you must keep your eyes on the road ahead.

You can put your shoes back on now and enjoy those cherry trees.

Shoes have gotten a bad rap lately. Blamed for everything from knee problems to spinal injury, walking shod is starting to look like less of a boon than a liability. But as the exercise above illustrates there are distinct advantages, especially to our hunter-gatherer ancestors, to sporting something on your soles.

Shoes are a tool. Like most human inventions, they gave us a distinct advantage over our competitors and the environment, allowing us to perform a simple act:

Looking Around.

The ability to become less concerned with the path under our feet and concentrate on the road ahead is too tremendous to describe.

To draw a nerd parallel, computer programs often have “watchdog” routines built into them. These watchdogs prevent the program from crashing by performing constant checks to make sure that everything is moving smoothly. These watchdog routines take time. They consume processing ability. They take up space. If you could remove these watchdogs, you’d have capacity for other things. If you can become less concerned with what you’re walking on, you can become more concerned with the beauty of the mountain pass you’re walking through.

Shoes are important. No matter how much our modern minds would like to demonize what walking shod has done to us, its important to remember what walking shod has done for us. Is it clear that poorly designed shoes can cause detriment to our gait and posture? Absolutely, and our modern ability to examine this can in some small way be traced to that fact that we at some point decided that we were tired of training our eyes 3 feet in front of us, and instead began to look miles ahead.

I go barefoot often. I have been running and walking in goofy toe shoes for years. But I respect ancient man’s decision to wear shoes, no matter how poorly we’ve designed them in recent years. The same goes for the agricultural revolution, which has received some poor press in modern times. I may not eat wheat, but that doesn’t diminish it’s importance to our ancestors.

It’s imperative to recognize that human civilization is built with a scaffolding. That scaffolding at times is found to be dangerous, and alternatives are sought and implemented. Bamboo is replaced with pine. Pine is replaced with steel. Then you find that there was nothing wrong with the bamboo and you return to it. It’s just scaffolding: the civilization is what you’re building.

That’s Okay.

You live in the times that you live in and you climb the scaffolding that you’re given thinking it’s the safest place to be.

So respect shoes, even if you don’t wear them all the time. Who knows how much of our modern world depended on that simple innovation.

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About Grant Muller

  • Ann

    Yes. I really agree on this. Thanks to those ancient man who invented shoes. Without their genius invention I don’t think we might be putting on shoes now. Shoes are just like so GREAT and GIVES you the freedom to be anywhere you want to be.

  • http://grantmuller.com Grant Muller

    It is apparently a barefoot Nepalese porter. Image courtesy of matthetube.

  • http://www.untoldentertainment.com Ryan Henson Creighton

    Ehm … in some parts of the world, they don’t wear shoes, and they get along just fine – some on blistering hot desert sand that would sear our skin.

    Check out Born to Run. Shoes may not be all they’re cracked up to be.

  • http://grantmuller.com Grant Muller

    I intentionally asked that Born to Run be included as a link on this page. You’ll see it above. I love that book. I have already mentioned in the article that POORLY DESIGNED shoes are not all they’re cracked up to be. Shoes as a tool and innovation deserve respect.

    Places where people go barefoot they’re usually doing so as the result of poverty. Kenyan adults usually run lightly shod, or in sandals Tarahumara wear sandals and shoes of their own making.

    We only see the romance of running barefoot. What we don’t see are the chigger infestations that the Kenyan government is currently trying to control by providing shoes to their people.