Panhandlers used to infuriate me.

Every day as I drove to and from work, I would pass several street corners that consistently had panhandlers holding out their hats waiting for someone to offer assistance. And every day, having passed by these individuals and through the intersection, the words “lazy bum” would unconsciously be muttered out of the corner of my mouth. I assumed these people didn’t want to work and were just looking for a handout.

One particularly chilly morning as I was making my usual left turn beneath the overpass, I noticed a couple sleeping under a thin blanket — obviously having spent the night there. As tears welled up in my eyes, I wondered why the sight of the couple broke my heart, but seeing the gentleman holding out his hat on the street corner just yards down the street made me so angry?

“We see the world, not as it is, but as we are — or, as we are conditioned to see it.”

Stephen R. Covey

I realized it was my perspective. I saw that couple’s struggle by not having a roof over their head or a warm bed to snuggle into. That’s something I can sympathize with. I didn’t see the man on the corner possibly struggling with losing his wife to cancer several years ago, or being haunted by the fact that he was the only surviving member of his combat unit during Vietnam.

We all make assumptions every day. Anyone we come into contact with could be the gentleman on the corner or the couple under the overpass, fighting battles that remain unseen. How much could we improve the world we live in if we could just keep this in mind the next time we wanted to make an assumption about someone?

We’ve never walked a mile in their shoes.