Situation forces look inward

The self-checkout line was five carts deep. After a full day of shopping, I had made one final stop and was ready to call it a day. I had places to be and things to do, with no time to wait. But I took my place in line and waited my turn because that’s the right thing to do in situations like this.

One by one, the registers emptied, and soon I was next in line.

A register opened to my left—a glorious sight—but before I could maneuver my cart to the register, a woman appeared out of nowhere, bypassing the line completely and ignoring my place in it, to claim the open register.

How dare she? I thought to myself. It’s MY turn.

Quite to my own surprise, I heard myself say, loud enough for the woman to hear, “Oh COME ON.” I had only intended to mutter utter my breath. Immediately, I regretted the decision when she turned to face me. Another rule-follower in line behind me advocated on my behalf, and I attempted to push those three little words right back in the toothpaste tube.

“No, it’s okay. Go ahead. I’ll wait.”

But instead, the woman relinquished the register to me, and I moved ahead to scan my groceries. Mission accomplished. But why did I feel such a pit in my stomach?

That interaction has haunted me the past week or so as I continue to wrestle with the shadow side of my personality. I’m prone to fairness and justice, and when others infringe upon my “rights,” my immediate response is, How dare they?

Jen Wilkin in her book, “In His Image,” writes, “Scarcity has a way of revealing our true understanding of the Golden Rule.”

In my case, my time was scarce, and my focus was completely self-centered. But what if I had taken my eyes off myself for a second? I don’t know what kind of day that woman was having, but I’m certain it didn’t get better as a result of my interaction with her in the WalMart self-check line.

I read an online article recently about empathetic intelligence by Jeremy Sherman, who writes “When you put yourself in another person’s shoes you risk seeing yourself as others would see you—not quite as special as you think.” Brutal, but true.

A recent trip to south Texas, where I had the opportunity to learn about the immigration situation on the border and hear stories of people whose lives are much different than mine, highlighted my own lack of empathy.

It’s easy to have empathy for those to whom we can relate. I was made aware of that idea during a recent online conference I attended. Speaker Latasha Morrison said through empathy, we enter into another person’s story—listening and sitting with the person—which allows us to re-write the narratives we tell ourselves about that person. She distinguished between sympathy and empathy. Whereas sympathy disconnects from the situation, empathy says, “Can I lift some of this burden for you?”

Had I taken time to place myself in the other woman’s shoes that day in the WalMart checkout line, I would have realized that I had no idea what events had brought her to that very moment—maybe she, too, had places to be and things to do—and I certainly could have spared an extra 5 minutes of my day to let her go ahead of me.

In that case, I think we both would have won.

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