Walk A Mile In My Moccasins

Before you criticize a man, walk a mile in his moccasins.

— Source: my mom, although usually attributed to Native American sources but could be from ancient Rome and may have roots in Christ’s teaching in the Bible.

Even though this quote is an oldie but a goodie, it seemed fitting for my three day run with aphorisms on empathy. Loosely defined, empathy is the capability to share and understand another person’s emotions and feelings.

I believe that empathy is one of the most powerful tools in leadership, business, and life. By putting yourself in “the other person’s shoes” you can have richer interactions and make better decisions on every front. I am much more effective as a leader if I imagine how my style and actions are perceived by those I am endeavoring to lead. The products that I create or the services that I provide are much more valuable if put myself inside the mind of my customers as I create and deliver them.

On a very practical level, I was sitting in the audience of several presentations last week in which the speaker had filled his PowerPoint slides with so much text that they were barely readable. Worse, each click to a new slide presented me with a dilemma: should I tune out the speaker so as to absorb what is written on the slides? or should I ignore what is showing on the slides so as to listen to what the speaker is saying? Why didn’t the speaker imagine for one minute what it was going to be like to sit in the audience of their presentation? I know they put a lot of thought into what they wanted to tell me. Why didn’t they put a little thought into what it would be like to hear their message?

Empathy can be learned (I took a course on it in graduate school). Try it. Put yourself in the other person’s shoes, if only for a moment.

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  1. I associate this saying pointing out the difference between perspective taking and empathy. Standing in someones shoes is perspective taking; walking a mile gives you the wearyness, joys, dangers of another’s journey, or empathy. cheers..jb

  2. So glad to be reminded of this quote. I’m in a dilemma at the moment because my boss has been trying to get rid of me for the last 3 years (I’m 63) and has reported me spuriously of being incompetent. I have a meeting on Tuesday to prove myself and came across your site when I suggested to my son that I take a pair of shoes of each person to the meeting to prove to them that I am a person and not just another number on the computer. Thank you so much

  3. I would like to know if you have the words of the complete poem. I cannot find it anywhere .


  4. Lee

    Thanks for the comment. I was not aware there was a complete poem. If you find it, please point me towards it.

  5. The scripture for tomorrow’s sermon will be taken from Matthew 5:43 where Jesus tells us to love our enemies. Walking in someone’s moccasins is the 1st step in following Jesus’command.

    Pastor Steve

  6. I love this Quote..it has been told to me a many times and also came from my American Native background family history. Thanks for sharing. julie

  7. I have been a pastor for 50 years and love to find quotes that come from the human family as they enrich our lives with such great depth. They also create a solidarity among us all. My grandmother use this quote often and from it (and her many examples) I grew a sense of empathy that has stayed with me all my life. Thanks for helping us all stay “connected” as those who seek wisdom for the human journey we all take.

  8. Love this saying, wish I could find it on ,a plague to hang on the wall.

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