Walk a Mile


In 1895 a poet named Mary T. Lathrop penned a poem she called “Judge Softly.” The theme of the stanzas has been repeated in many forms over the years, using different words but having the general meaning. She begins her poem with the following lines.

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.

We live in a world where criticism floods our lives. People face criticism for how they perform their jobs. Leaders are put down because of their decisions, no matter what they decide. Parents endure criticism for how they rear their children. We sit in our easy chairs and criticize the football game’s coach for the plays he calls or the quarterback for throwing an interception. We condemn the police for not acting quickly enough or even acting too quickly. Our children are struggling in school, so we criticize the teacher. The school system blames the parents. Society criticizes the media, violent video games, movies, and a world where technology has replaced social interaction. I could continue, but you get the point. 

One of the problems with criticism is that it is often one-sided. We look through a window and pick apart what someone else is doing or not doing. We are spectators in the lives of others, not active, but merely passing judgment on what we think should be done or not done. We have never walked that journey in their moccasins. 

We’ve heard the phrase, “Never criticize until you’ve walked a mile in their shoes.” “Don’t judge until you’ve taken the same journey.” “Walk a mile in my shoes.” “You can’t judge a person until you’ve walked a mile in their shoes.” We’ve all used a phrase similar to these, but how often do we practice what we preach?

Everyone’s life is different. We all experience things, but the little differences make each of our journeys different. I have never been a policeman having to make a life or death decision. I have been a teacher and know that every child in that room has a different story they bring to the room. I’ve seen how parents and teachers can both be right and wrong when it comes to why a child acts the way he does. I’ve never been in politics, so I don’t know what goes into the discussions that lead to their decisions. I’ve been a leader who has made decisions, receiving criticism from others who don’t know what we went through to get to the point where we decided on an issue. 

We need to quit criticizing people in situations where we don’t know all the facts. We need to give empathy and support to those who have to make judgments based on their facts and not on what we think the particulars may be. As the phrase goes, “Put yourself in their shoes.” But notice the saying goes further. Each one says, “Walk a mile.” In other words, before you pass judgment, spend time in the same situation in which they find themselves. Watching something on the television is nothing like living the moment. Ask any person who has been in the heat of battle, and they’ll tell you it’s not like the movies. People die. People cry. People are scared. 

Jesus faced criticism everywhere he went. One time, in particular, he found himself in a lose-lose situation. “For John came neither eating nor drinking, and they say, ‘He has a demon!’ “The Son of Man came eating and drinking, and they say, ‘Behold, a gluttonous man and a drunkard, a friend of tax collectors and sinners!’ Yet wisdom is vindicated by her deeds.” Matthew 11:18-19 (NASB) People misunderstood his intentions, judging both Jesus and those around him from the outside and their standards. 

Mary Lathrop closes her poem with the following stanzas.

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 humanity taught to you by our elders.
We will be known forever by the tracks we leave
In other people’s lives, our kindness and generosity.

Take the time to walk a mile in his moccasins.

Show concern without criticism. Treat people with kindness and love when you find yourself with a different opinion. Quit judging others for things that you know nothing about. Jesus once stood on the side of a hill and told the crowd who came to listen, “Treat others the same way you want them to treat you.” Luke 6:31 (NASB) This goes not only for actions but also for what we say to and about them. Walking that mile in their shoes is being Jesus in their world.

Danny Minton is an Elder at Southern Hills Church of Christ


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