The dangers of bare feet are greatly exaggerated.

Some things need to be said about the dangers of going barefoot. This essay is written as a reaction to the case of Robert A. Neinast vs. the Columbus Metropolitan Library. Bob is suing the library for banning his bare feet. However, most of the points named here apply in other cases as well.

First of all, I currently do not live in the US, however I have lived there for a period of five years. I now live in the Netherlands, and in twenty years of being full-time barefoot no one has *ever* required me to wear shoes in a store, restaurant, library or such. I find it shocking that a country that is so proud of it's 'liberties' has such a big problem with such a harmless activity as going barefoot. In my years in the US I have never encountered a place that seems more dangerous than the locations I regularly visit here. And I didn't always live in the best neighborhoods, either.

But, but, there might be *glass* on the floor! And blood! And urine! Or spit! Someone might get AIDS! Well, let me tell you something. For more than ten years, I have traveled to and from work an average of four days a week, taking public transportation. I have one layover, so I walk through three train stations. Train stations, here, are not the cleanest places. There is always glass somewhere on my way. I'm not even counting the bicycle shed, it gets its own private (and often generous) helping every Friday and Saturday night, and it doesn't get swept up until some time on Monday. I rarely watch my step, usually either running fast to catch the train, reading the paper, or walking around still half asleep (I'm not a morning person). Now, please, take a guess at the number of glass splinters and/or cuts I have picked up during my commute. Big or small, anything counts. Ten years, lots of glass, no particular care taken to avoid walking through it. Come on, take a stab. Okay, I'll tell you. Zero. Zilch. Nada. That's right, all that time walking where there's lots of glass and I haven't had any cuts or splinters. The skin of a bare foot is tough and leathery, and quite resistant to punctures and cuts.

On the very rare occasions I have picked up a glass or wood splinter elsewhere, it rarely penetrates deep enough to get to the live flesh and the blood (where infections could, in extreme unlucky circumstances, occur). That happens maybe once a year, and then it is still a very minor injury. Try pushing a needle through a piece of leather and see what happens. First you'll find that if it's a thick piece of leather it's pretty hard to get it through in the first place. A nick on the surface, sure, that's easy. You can get it to stick in there alright. But to punch completely through you really have to push hard. Usually, when stepping on a piece of glass that's what happens. It may scratch the surface, but it takes a while to work through. You'd have to stomp down really hard, or walk on for a while ignoring it, before it gets all the way through the thick calluses into the actual flesh. In almost every instance you'll feel it long before it really gets stuck deep and you can simply flick it off while it's only stuck in the outer layer of the skin. Okay, but say we didn't pay attention, or hit it exactly wrong, and it did pierce through. What happens then? To demonstrate, withdraw the needle from the leather and look at what happens to the puncture. It draws close, right? Live skin does the same thing, if not better. So very little dirt or other pathogens have any chance of getting in, even in the very rare instances a glass splinter gets stuck in the foot that far.

And what about other footwear? If I were to visit the Columbus Metropolitan Library, would I be allowed in wearing high heels or platform shoes? What about slick-soled dress shoes? If the Library were really liable for every possible injury to any person on the property, they better make sure people aren't allowed in wearing those. Someone could twist an ankle, and that's a lot nastier than a tiny splinter. And not so far-fetched when you see the list of the incidents at the Library, over a period of more than 4 1/2 years, and notice the number of slips and falls (29). Barefoot, slipping is rare because you will feel the floor is wet before you land on it. The number of incidents involving feces, urine and vomit is only 23, several of which weren't on the floor but in places where shoes wouldn't make a difference (restroom mirror, wall, seat). The number of incidents involving glass is 15. That's less than I encounter in two weeks of going to and from work. In 4 1/2 years. Dangerous place, that library!

The chance of AIDS or other disease is extremely small. When you look through the list of incidents, there is only one incident that involved broken glass and blood. Okay, if you'd get cut, and if it were deep enough, and if the blood happened to be infected, it could be a remote possibility. In all other cases you'd have to walk through the glass first, get that deep cut, then walk through the bodily fluids after, and have the bad luck it happened to be infected with AIDS. Tricky, because even in the closest two incidents you'd have to hang around the library for twelve days after the glass was broken to find some feces to step in...

And last but not least, don't forget all the other things that could happen! Perhaps a fat volume of the encyclopaedia could fall on someone's toe while they were wearing sandals, better require closed shoes, don't they know they can break a toe like that? Come to think of it, maybe they should remove all those books. Someone could get a paper cut. And get AIDS in the bathroom while they rinsed it out. Seriously now, the thing is, we take risks every day. Bare feet are seen as 'dangerous' but other footwear that can cause an injury is ignored. We fear the unknown. We take a lot of common risks for granted, but when we see something unusual, the risks get blown way out of proportion. Indeed, the dangers of bare feet are greatly exaggerated.

Check the statistics.

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More barefoot links:
Index | Why NSNSNS signs are wrong | No bare feet by order of... | The dangers of bare feet are greatly exaggerated | Confrontations in stores, why it matters | Bare feet and colds | Driving barefoot and safety | Flying barefoot, comfort and safety | Bare feet, proper dress and respect | Dress codes in schools and elsewhere

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