The original name of this heartfelt poem by Mary T. 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.”
This line was quoted by my Mother to me over and over growing up, and has been attributed to various Native American tribes, but comes from this poem by Mary Lathrap. Whether she was inspired by a direct Native American contact or not I have yet to find, but it reads as heavily influenced by the conditions of Native Americans both on and off the reservations at the time.
Regardless, it is not the title 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 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