Images of suffering swirl all around us
Shootings, protests, shootings yet again.
Accusations and counter accusations without end.
I was talking to someone recently who said, essentially, “I get it”.
“Of course there’s racism but why do ‘they’ keep having to
protest…I already got it”.
I was caught off guard. Until systemic racism and bigotry
have ceased there is no time to say “I have gotten it.” Everyone
must get the message and act to ameliorate the wrongs.
Clearly until you have walked a mile in someone else’s shoes
and experienced racism directly, you cannot have truly “gotten
Please read with me the following posted by James Milson
on his writing and creativity blog, about a poem that generated the phrase
we are familiar with “walk a mile in another’s shoes.”
“Walk a Milestone in His Moccasins”—by Mary T.
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, a
licensed 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
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
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
“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
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
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 through 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.”
Article by James Milson in his writing and creativity blog
This is the first o a series of AAUW Diversity articled whose goal is to
increase understanding and empathy. It is not one-sided as
we all can work to understand where each of us is “coming
from.” Until we have a sense of this, we may be doomed to
repeat the cycle of judgment and hate that we see
for the Diversity Committee