When I was at the self-checkout section of the supermarket yesterday, I heard some commotion at the machine next to mine. Apparently a woman had just finished her transaction and was now bagging her groceries, but the man behind her immediately started putting his groceries on the belt and now they were crashing into hers. The woman became louder and louder, chastising man for his impatience and then defending herself as the man made some remark about her “needing help.” (He was clearly referring to her mental state, not her efforts at bagging).
The woman hurried out, and I left through a separate door, on my way to my car, thinking about how easily two people who were clearly educated, well-dressed, in a suburban supermarket, can become angry and offensive. I walked to my car and was loading my groceries in the back when I saw the woman pushing her cart to her car which was near mine. Our eyes met and she immediately started to angrily point out how rude the man had been, how impatient, and she only just moved here and couldn’t believe that this was how she was welcomed to our town.
I just listened, nodding my head, letting her vent. I agreed that we can all be so impatient and inconsiderate. She suddenly smiled and asked, “Are you an instructor?” I then remembered I had thrown on my tank top that says “heavily meditated” as a joke, as I was having tea with my friend, a physician. I replied that yes, I teach a couple of yoga classes.
So we started to chat about how she used to practice yoga in her old town but hadn’t found a spot here yet, could she please have my card? Then she returned to the incident that had just happened inside the store, and said that her husband had the same thing happen to him a few days ago, and she was dismayed by people’s impatience!
The whole incident and my conversation made me think about all of the interactions we have with others, loved ones and strangers, where the outcome is decided even before we engage. How often do I approach my teenaged daughter, already predicting her response to my instructions? (Predicted & often received response: defiance). I thought about this because knowing where this couple moved from and the lifestyle and pace and culture that I know is typical of that area, and with the knowledge that they had each had the same situation “happen” to them in the week since they moved to our area – I couldn’t help but think that until they started to shift their own attitude, expectations, and energy, they would probably continue to experience this sort of situation in their new home.
I find it fascinating how two people can witness the same interaction or situation and have two completely different responses or interpretations. Depending on what our life experiences have been, and how we feel about ourselves, we can interpret things and then choose our reaction so vastly differently. When I was relaying the supermarket incident a couple of hours later to a couple of friends, one of them (Marni) who is one of the most generous, fun, charitable people I know, laughingly said, “if someone did that to me [started processing their order without waiting for me to finish bagging] I would tell him to keep going, but I was going to keep his groceries!” And I have no doubt that this is exactly how she would have reacted, and there would have been a lot laughter rather than shouting.
There's a lot of tension in our world today, and it's easy to feel helpless and that much of it is beyond our control. This, however, is something we can control. Something like an interaction in the supermarket may seem inconsequential especially when our Twitter feed is filled with increasingly negative news about intolerance and violence between people near and far. My helping diffuse a stranger's anger may not have a newsworthy impact on the world or a community or a family. But in that moment, when I chose to meet the woman's gaze rather than write her off as a crazy person and continue with my busy day, I chose to see her as someone who was facing some unknown struggle, who had bumped against another person who was facing his own struggles. And I heard her out and felt nothing but kindness. And perhaps, because of this, her trip home from the supermarket and her evening with her husband and her conversation over the phone with her daughter, may have shifted to a less conflictual stance.
When you change the way you think about something, it changes. Whether it’s someone you love, or the acquaintance who posted something on Facebook, or the person in front of you at the stoplight, or the stranger at the store – you can change the little things. Try out a new way of thinking about something or someone, and see how they change. Big change starts with small changes, that add up.
Motivational coach, athlete, mom, entrepreneur. I love helping people mindfully reboot their health & joy.