More Lessons in Compassion at the Grocery Store

I mentioned in yesterday’s post a recent trip to the grocery store, but I only told the middle of the story. Here’s how it began:

So, we’d managed to make it to the checkout line with only a few more items than were on the list and with me still on speaking terms with both of my children. I pushed my cart up to the conveyor belt as best I could and began unloading groceries. My son was enthusiastic about helping that day but is too short to reach into the cart with his three-year-old arms, so I would hand him an item and he would put it up on the belt while I rushed to put up five more items before he toddled back to the cart for something else.

I had just handed him a box of instant oatmeal and turned back to grab a few more things when I heard the man in the next line over say, “Oh, no,” in a grave voice. I turned to see my son sprawled on the floor holding his ear, the man bent over him saying, “Oh my God. I’m so sorry. It’s all my fault. I’m so sorry.”

I scooped up my now lustily crying son. I asked him where it hurt, just to make sure I wasn’t missing any less obvious areas of injury, and he just pointed to his ear.  Upon inspecting it, I saw that his ear was red but fine, but my son cried on.

All this time, the man had kept talking. “I’m so, so sorry. I knocked into him with my cart. I was walking backwards. I should never, ever have done that. I’m a horrible person.”

Now that I knew my son was okay, I could turn my attention to this man. I could have felt angry, but instead I found myself feeling compassion for him. How many times have I knocked my son over in a similar manner and felt just miserable over causing him injury? He just kind of gets under foot and before you know it, he’s on the floor. I offered the man this gift:

I smiled at him in what I hope was a warm and compassionate way and said, “No, you’re not horrible at all. It could have happened to anyone. He’s easy to knock over.”

He apologized a few more times, and then we both went back to our groceries.

I felt great about our exchange. I felt calm and peaceful. I felt warm and connected to this stranger.

Of course, a few moments later I was leaning into the grocery cart with my son still propped on my hip with his tear-wet face buried in my neck feeling irritated that no one had offered to help me. And I didn’t just feel irritated; I felt indignant. According to the social contract, as the wronged party—even though the man had knocked my son over by accident—I thought I deserved help, and yet no one was offering it. Thinking this, I felt not-peaceful. I felt angry and isolated.

On the way to the car I reflected on the situation, and I decided that I’d rather feel the way I did when I gave this man my gift of a smile and a bit of compassion than the way I did when I was feeling like I wasn’t getting something I was entitled to. I decided that, from now on, I would do my best to see myself as someone who is always prepared to give the gift rather than as someone who deserves more than she’s getting.

It’s a hard habit to break, though, this sense that I don’t have enough. I frequently feel overwhelmed and upset, and I wish that things were easier or that someone would just offer to help me without my asking for help. But I don’t want to feel that way. I want to feel that other way: empowered and full of abundant compassion. So, I’m going to do my best to cultivate that by giving the gift of compassion whenever I can.

What do you do when you find yourself feeling like you’re begin treated unfairly? Do you cultivate compassion, or do you nurture indignation? If you’ve broken the indignation habit, how did you do it?

9 comments

  1. crpeterson · November 17, 2012

    This was a really good post, made me think!! It is so easy to jump down people’s throats, but you definitely took the high road! Also, your line about still being on speaking terms with your kids….hysterical!

    Like

    • CJ · November 17, 2012

      Thank you, crpeterson! I perhaps took the high road this time, but one of these days maybe I work up the courage to write about the time I lost it in the children’s consignment shop when a woman got haughty with me. Not at all proud of that moment.

      Like

      • Courtney · November 17, 2012

        Ooooh BUT I would love to read about that!! We all have those moments 🙂

        Like

      • CJ · November 17, 2012

        I know, I know…I just need to work up the courage to do it. My children still talk about it, and they weren’t even in the store with me at the time.

        Like

      • ApplePieAndNapalm · November 17, 2012

        LOL, do it, do it! I bare my soul all the time, it’s cathartic. I wanna read it!

        Like

  2. Ellery Davies · November 16, 2012

    I don’t think that I have ever “lost it” in public (and neither did you in this vignette). But if a social incident causes me to burn from within, I will sometimes reveal hostility in the subtle change to my general aura. Effectively, I am signaling that I wish to be left alone and that I am not available for niceties and chit chat.

    In these situations (post irritation), I remain courteous, but my manner becomes stilted, formal and a bit cool. Friends who know me are instantly aware that my social core is temporarily off limits. (“Stay away from Ellery. He wants to sulk”. Those who love me are sometimes ticked off, because they are upset that they cannot get close – even to comfort me.

    In your story, you seethe over inaction or lack of compassion from other customers. But what if the incident that disgruntles you is at the hands of management or an employee? As you may recall from my feedback to a past Blog post, I rarely complain. Instead, I leave—and I don’t return for a very long time. Typically, not until the business or franchise changes hands…

    If the incident is sufficiently egregious, I write a scathing Blog and let the chips fly. Arm chair reviews and Blogs wield surprising power. I received generous “settlements” after posting justified online rants at AWildDuck.com (Search ‘Terstappen’ or ‘Verizon’, 2nd article down). Many years ago, my review of Estamp.com caused that company to fold. (I am not proud of this. The URL now takes visitors to stamps.com, a competing vendor).

    Like

    • CJ · November 17, 2012

      Thanks for the comment, Ellery. I don’t usually lose it in public, but there have been a couple of times. I usually reserve the losing it for when I’m at home (my family are so lucky).

      Like

  3. ApplePieAndNapalm · November 16, 2012

    As I get older, when I am at that point, the crazy point of no certain return, I try and smile the broadest and offer some encouragement. I let myself think about what that person might be going through in that moment and maybe they just need eye contact or a smile or just a word. It takes longer for me to get over my own insult and irritation, but I’m almost always glad that I went that route.

    Like

    • CJ · November 17, 2012

      “It takes longer for me to get over my own insult and irritation…”

      So often it takes much more energy for me to staunch the irritated response than it does to give vent to it, but the bad feeling I get from venting take a lot longer to work through.

      Thanks for reading and commenting!

      Like

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