White Shoes

February 4, 2019
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Why on earth do all XOs (eXperience Officers) at SLEEEP wear white shoes? Isn’t that impractical and unsustainable?

When we were young, part of our school uniforms for P.E. (Physical Education, i.e. Sports/playground time) were the inevitable white canvas shoes. White, spotless, no logos, no ornaments, no graphics, just plain old canvas shoes. I used to wonder, why, of all the colorful sneakers I saw in the score of sneaker stores, do we have to settle with those bland, boring white shoes? Needless to say, they get dirty after practically every use. Washing them (even though I had plenty of help for that) seemed like an endless chore; a waste of time.

In hindsight, I could appreciate them a bit more.

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School is in some way an idealized society: The uniforms to an extent normalized our appearance; the white canvas shoes prevented us from differentiating ourselves from our peers by the fanciness of our sneakers. Regardless of one’s backgrounds, our shoes were the same. No swoosh or stripes shall let some students feel the undeserved pride or, on the other hand, the innocent envy. Moreover, the white shoes required us to invest the effort into keeping them clean, over and over again. These characters encouraged students to focus on areas for excellence where, instead of materials privilege, discipline and determination are more definitive.

How should we judge superiority, how should we reward individuals in a society? How should we define success? As an adult now, I do recognize that we are, day to day, being judged by our clothes, our mannerisms, the car we drive, the size of our home… We often judge others and ourselves more by our material possessions than our moral and intellectual integrity, for the former is so much more easily perceivable.

I, now as a parent, would hate to be passing on these values to my child. I do not wish to bring up a child who judges others by their shoes, or watches they wear, or the cars and houses they own. I wish we would learn to value others by their kindness, their diligence, and their integrity.

If we want such a world. Success needs to be redefined. I recognize that many things we do here may seem counter-intuitive when such an endeavor is pursued. People will judge you, laugh at you, or dismiss you. That I am prepared for.

The challenge of wearing white shoes is that they get dirty extremely easily, practically every time you wear it. Hence, some choose to wear them only on special occasions; Some choose to buy a new pair frequently; some choose to avoid them altogether.

But, the tracking through life is full of dust, grease, and sharp objects that soil, stain, and damage us. People will challenge us, tempt us or even attack us. We could choose to selectively activate our morals, change our moral standards often, or forget about them altogether. But we must not.

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The greatest challenge is to wear your white shoes, and carry your principles, day after day and to keep them clean, day after day. The sustained effort is one not many would like to make, but the only one that builds our character and integrity nonetheless. We may not be perfect, but that should not stop us from trying.

That is why, at SLEEEP, clean white shoes with minimal markings is a distinctly important part of our uniform.

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