Step 8: Beginning to Feel Compassion for Others


Contributor:  W. Travis Stewart, LPC, NCC writer for Addiction Hope

This morning I met with a group of young men enrolled in a graduate program which requires them to participate in a small group on a weekly basis. This group is focused on each student telling his life story to the group, developing personal and professional insight into his own life and discussing how this self-awareness and shared experience will assist them in their future people-helping profession. Today was the first time the group members began to talk about their lives in the group setting.

Compassion & Empathy

Psychologist listen to girl problem.Each student was asked to share one strength and one weakness about his family of origin. In a group of men from diverse backgrounds it was amazing to see how quickly common ground was discovered. One man stated, “I know we didn’t go into a lot of detail but it’s encouraging to see how much we have in common.” Another said, “It’s amazing how we tend to judge people from first impressions and how much that changes when we begin to understand someone’s background.”

We went on to discuss how, when we come to explore the context in which someone was raised and how various life experiences have shaped an individual, we open the door to compassion.

This brings to mind the saying, “Don’t judge another man until you have walked a mile in his shoes.” This saying likely originated with the poem Judge Softly written by Mary T. Lathrap in 1895. It begins,

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.

and includes the verse,

Just walk a mile in his moccasins

Before you abuse, criticize and accuse.

The idea of walking in another man’s moccasins expresses the concept of empathy – the ability to feel what someone else feels. Empathy is a forerunner to compassion. Compassion means to “feel alongside” but, today, we tend to think of it more as a verb – how we treat others.

Man and woman holding hands at a tableCompassion does not require agreement, nor does it mean condoning the actions of others. It does mean treating someone with dignity and a willingness to understand the forces that are active in his or her life.

If you want to develop more compassion in your life, you must first develop empathy. If you want to develop more empathy, you must first develop curiosity. If you want to develop more curiosity you must develop humility, for humility shifts our agenda from self-protection to healthy self-forgetfulness and a mature interest in others. And that is a good place to be.

Community Discussion – Share your thoughts here!

How has the compassion for others changed before and after your addiction recovery?

About the author:

Travis Stewart earned a Master of Arts in Counseling (2001) and a Master of Arts in Theological Studies (2003), both from Covenant Seminary in St. Louis, MO.  Travis is a Licensed Professional Counselor in the State of Missouri and a writer for Eating Disorder Hope and Addiction Hope.

The opinions and views of our guest contributors are shared to provide a broad perspective of addictions and co-occurring disorders.  These are not necessarily the views of Addiction Hope, but an effort to offer a discussion of various issues by different concerned individuals.  We at Addiction Hope understand that addictions result from a combination of environmental and genetic factors.  If you or a loved one are suffering from an addiction, please know that there is hope for you, and seek immediate professional help.  

Last Updated & Reviewed By: Jacquelyn Ekern, MS, LPC on October 9, 2015, 2015. Published on