January 12, 2024 by

By John Schorling

I have been thinking about the importance of perspective recently.  As our society becomes more and more polarized, it seems it has become harder and harder to appreciate the perspectives of those who may see the world differently than we do.  We all have views on the way things should be that are largely based on our upbringing and other formative experiences.  These views are deeply held and we often don’t even recognize that we have them.  When someone says or does something that is counter to these core beliefs it often triggers a strong reaction in us.  On the other hand, we tend to like when our core beliefs are supported.  Social media companies and news organizations recognize this, and thus our feeds are full of reinforcing information that often focuses on the positives of our beliefs and the negatives of other beliefs. This can lead to greater and greater polarization.

Yet if we want to solve difficult problems, we often have to not only acknowledge but even understand and appreciate the beliefs and views of others.  This can be very hard because we often move from feeling negatively about an action to making negative assumptions about the person doing the acting.  Rather than try to understand them, we judge them.  When we notice the tendency to judge someone, can we pause and respond with curiosity instead?  Why did someone act the way they did?  This doesn’t mean we have to passively accept others, behaviors.  We might still note that we or someone else felt hurt by someone’s actions, and we can seek to understand their motivation rather than just judge them, or just assume we know why they did what they did.

We can also use this as an opportunity to understand ourselves better.  When another’s actions causes us to experience a strong emotional reaction, rather than just reacting to the emotion we can be curious about it.  We can start by naming it- perhaps noting anger is arising- and noticing where we feel it in the body.  And we can be curious about why we had such a strong reaction.  Often the first thought will be “because people shouldn’t act that way” or “doing that is wrong”.  But why shouldn’t people do that or why is it wrong?  Often this exploration will lead to a strong belief that we’ve held for a long time, such as “it’s wrong to yell at someone”.  Yet if the person doing the yelling has been exposed to situations where yelling is the principal way conflicts are dealt with, it’s not wrong to them. It may be the only way they have learned to be heard.

When we notice a strong reaction in ourselves, we can pause and take perspective.  When strong reactions arise, we can easily get caught up in them, and act without even thinking. Pausing allows us to step back, to be curious, to gain some perspective.  The same is true of dealing with others.  Rather than just judging their behavior, we can be curious.  We might ask them about their action, and we might see if we can view things from their perspective.

I planned to end this Musing with the quote “before you judge someone, walk a mile in their shoes”.  Before I used it, I wanted to know its origin.  I found that the quote is usually attributed to this poem written by Mary T. Lathrap in 1895.  I will end with the whole poem instead of just the one line as I think it speaks very eloquently to this topic.

“Judge Softly”

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


Filed Under: Monthly Musings