The name of this heartfelt poem by Mary Torrans Lathrap (1838-1895) was originally titled “Judge Softly” when written in 1895, and has later come to be known by its most famous and quoted line — “Walk a Mile in His Moccasins.”
Mary T. Lathrap was also known at the time as the “The Daniel Webster of Prohibition”. She was an American poet, licensed a preacher in the Methodist Episcopal Church in 1871, a temperance reformer, and a suffragist, co-founding Michigan’s suffrage organization in 1870. For 20 years, she was identified with the progressive women of Michigan who had temperance, purity, and prohibition as their watchwords, and the white ribbon as their badge.
The “Walk a Mile in His Moccasins” line was quoted by my Mother to me over and over growing up and has been attributed to various Native American tribes over the years, but actually comes from this poem by Mary Lathrap. Whether she was inspired by a direct Native American contact or not I have yet to find. Nevertheless, it reads as heavily influenced by the conditions of Native Americans both on and off the Indian Reservations at the time and still resounds meaningfully for us today.
This piece always brings to mind another of my Mother’s admonitions, one of the more quoted passages of the Bible. From Matthew 7:1-2, in her words — “Judge not, lest ye be judged. Why do you see the splinter in your brother’s eye, but do not notice the log in your own eye?” For me, there has always been a two-fold meaning to Jesus’ cautionary words which follow. One, since no one can be expected to live up to a standard of perfection, no one should ever engage in judging others, since we are all imperfect and will be held to the same perfect standards we apply to others. Or the second interpretation, that we should set our own house in order before exercising judgment and helping others to do the same.
Confusion over the title aside then, it is not the title of this poem which is significant in the end, but rather the meaning and true message of the words of Compassion, Kindness, Empathy, and Understanding still so relevant and needed in our world today, over a hundred years after it was written.
“Pray, don’t find fault with the man that limps,
Or stumbles along the road.
Unless you have worn the moccasins he wears,
Or stumbled beneath the same load.
There may be tears in his soles that hurt
Though hidden away from view.
The burden he bears placed on your back
May cause you to stumble and fall, too.
Don’t sneer at the man who is down today
Unless you have felt the same blow
That caused his fall or felt the shame
That only the fallen know.
You may be strong, but still the blows
That were his, unknown to you in the same way,
May cause you to stagger and fall, too.
Don’t be too harsh with the man that sins.
Or pelt him with words, or stone, or disdain.
Unless you are sure you have no sins of your own,
And it’s only wisdom and love that your heart contains.
For you know if the tempter’s voice
Should whisper as soft to you,
As it did to him when he went astray,
It might cause you to falter, too.
Just walk a mile in his moccasins
Before you abuse, criticize and accuse.
If just for one hour, you could find a way
To see through his eyes, instead of your own muse.
I believe you’d be surprised to see
That you’ve been blind and narrow-minded, even unkind.
There are people on reservations and in the ghettos
Who have so little hope, and too much worry on their minds.
Brother, there but for the grace of God go you and I.
Just for a moment, slip into his mind and traditions
And see the world through his spirit and eyes
Before you cast a stone or falsely judge his conditions.
Remember to walk a mile in his moccasins
And remember the lessons of humanity taught to you by your elders.
We will be known forever by the tracks we leave
In other people’s lives, our kindnesses and generosity.
Take the time to walk a mile in his moccasins.”
~ by Mary T. Lathrap, 1895
As we go thru life together, be a “Good Finder”, actively looking for and seeking out the best qualities in others, and not a “Fault Finder.” If we search for the divine spark embedded within each of us and in every creation, we are much more likely to find the perfection inside and not be misled by the outward appearance of the host container.
Thank you for visiting and spending part of your day with us. A smile or small gesture of kindness can turn someone’s day or whole life around. Will you help to make a difference in another’s life today? — Jim (and Red!)
If you enjoyed this post, check out — “Mitakuye Oyasin — We Are All Related”
“Empathy is seeing with the eyes of another, listening with the ears of another, and feeling with the heart of another.” – Alfred Adler
“If you can learn a simple trick, Scout, you’ll get along a lot better with all kinds of folks. You never really understand a person until you consider things from his point of view, until you climb inside of his skin and walk around in it.” — Harper Lee (‘To Kill a Mockingbird’)
Meet Little Red Bear & His Friends — “Once Upon A Time In A Very Special Woods . . . .”
“Never look down on anybody unless you’re helping him up.” – Jesse Jackson
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“Open your mind to the world and the many different ways that can be found in it, before making hasty judgments of others. After all, the very same thing that you judge from where you are— may very well be something totally different in meaning on the other side of the world. The problem with making hasty judgments is that it will emphasize your ignorance at the end of the day.” — C. JoyBell C.