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The Barefoot Dilemma2012.11.20

    Back in the sixties in high school I had a friend named Henry, who always went barefoot. Since he was never seen in shoes, my father wondered if Henry was trying to start a Barefoot Cult. At that time it was counterculture lifestyle. But today there are many arguments for the benefits of going barefoot, and many arguments against it.


    One of the chief proponents of going barefoot is Harvard Professor Daniel Lieberman whose video, The Barefoot Professor on the YouTube Nature Video Channel, is a persuasive piece of Science ( An Evolutionary Biologist, Dr. Lieberman studied barefoot runners in Kenya. Among other things, he discovered that Kenyan runners can regularly run from 20-40 kilometers in a day, equivalent to a marathon, and they run it barefoot! One observation was that they run with a front strike, landing on the ball of the foot, rather than a heel strike which is more typical of runners wearing shoes.


    Although shoes do cushion the blow somewhat, he says that with a heel strike, there is still a shock to the knees and body, equivalent to two to three times the runner's body weight. In addition to serious evidence supporting the benefits of barefoot running, Professor Lieberman also argues that shoes, even running shoes can be injurious. This could relate as much to the style of running as to the shoe, but it is certainly worth thinking about.


    Jessica Lee and Michael Sandler started a Barefoot Running Club in Boulder Colorado, which has expanded into a movement and of course a book, Barefoot Running: How to Run Light and Free by Getting in Touch with the Earth. As the title suggests, it goes beyond exercise to include healing and a healthier lifestyle, but with credibility and reinforcement based on Michael's remarkable recovery from a serious accident thanks to barefoot running and walking.


    Ethiopian athlete Abebe Bikila astonished the world when he won Olympic Gold at the Rome Olympics in 1960, running barefoot. He won it again 4 years later in Tokyo, that time wearing shoes, suggesting that it is more in the runner than in the shoes.


    Another Barefoot Professor is Daniel Howell, PhD, who teaches at Liberty University in Virginia. He is the author of a book with a catchy title, The Barefoot Book: 50 Great Reasons to Kick Off Your Shoes.


    A Washington Post article online reviewing the book drew comments from both sides of the fence, touching nerves more sensitive than bare feet! Some were on the side of the author, arguing that it was natural and healthy to go barefoot, even sensual and attractive. Others cited reasons why it was dangerous to risk stepping on nails or broken glass, not to mention poisonous snakes and spiders, especially in Texas!


    The comments are at first amusing to read, but quickly bog down into rants and slander, where the line between reason and emotion blurs like an erasure smudge. Are feet really dirty? Is it legal to drive barefoot? Is the professor nutty? Isn't that discriminating against poor people? Is it sanitary or safe? Is it natural and nice, or dirty and disgusting? If God had intended us to wear shoes...? Religion and politics. You can feel the haters in the room.


    Although apparently it is legal in most states to drive barefoot, it might not be the best way to leave the scene of an accident. Although it might feel good to kick off your shoes, many places still hold to a minimum dress code: No shoes, No shirt, No service.


    And despite all of emotions which run high on this issue, it is worth considering the perspective expressed in the Jewish proverb, I felt sorry for myself because I had no shoes, until I met a man who had no feet.


    There are safe environments for bare feet, and there are places where walking barefoot is akin to Russian Roulette. Why does it have to be either/or, all or nothing? Those caught up in the argument seem to be impaled on the horns of a dilemma that does not have to be. Why not take your shoes off when you are at home, and put them on when you go outside? The Japanese figured that out centuries ago, even inventing footwear which resembled the soft tatami mats. Now many people in the West are discovering the benefits of a culture which combines the benefits of both.



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    Article Writer

    William Reed

    William Reed is a renowned author-speaker who coaches physical finesse and flexible focus for a creative career path. A certified Master Trainer in Guerrilla Marketing and 7th-dan in Aikido, he combines practical wisdom of East and West to help you learn personal branding at the Entrepreneurs Creative Edge.

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