One of my favorite yogis, a man named Yogi Bhajan, who was the master of Kundalini yoga, used to say something along the lines of “recognize that the other person is you.” This quote came to mind the other day when I was standing in a very crowded line at the grocery store. In fact, it was just a few hours before New Year’s Eve and the place was mobbed.
Behind me was a young mother with three children in one of those car/shopping carts that I wish they’d had when I was a kid. The two year old was in the top basket, the four year old was in with the food, and the six year old (or thereabouts) was hanging off the side. It was clear that the children and the mother were stressed out by their grocery run. The girls were poking their fingers in their little brother’s eyes, the mother was alternately screaming and chatting on her cell phone. I could tell from the rising pitch of her voice that she was really getting ready to lose it.
Secretly, I was thinking that she had better just calm down and take a deep breath, and that if I had been in her shoes I would never have threatened or yelled at my kids that way. But then I remememberd some of the nasty things I said to my kids when they were little, on days when I was stressed, frustrated, overworked, lacking sleep, and overwhelmed. Yeah, I’d been exactly where that woman was now. Quite a few times in fact.
So as I inched closer to the checkout, I turned and asked the woman if she’d like to go ahead of me. I thought she was going to kiss my feet in gratitude. “You are so kind! Thank you so much!” she cried, quickly edging ahead and putting her stuff up on the counter. “I can’t thank you enough.”
That felt good, of course, but the best part was what she said to her kids. “You see, children? It’s so important to be kind!”
In fact, the kids were so visibly relieved that someone had given their mom a break that I thought they were going to hug me. They stopped punching and poking at each other. They started smiling at me and trying to be cute. Well, actually, they were quite cute once they stopped whining.
Of course, this woman’s problems weren’t all solved because of me, and on the way out the door I did notice that she was stuck by the Redbox kiosk with the kids whining and poking again. But what was really important about the exchange wasn’t that I let the mom go first. It was that I saw myself in her, and I realized that kindness rather than judgment was in order.
Who knows, really, what the kids got out of the experience, anyway. Maybe—I’m certainly hoping—they learned that it’s important to be kind. (Or maybe they learned that punching and poking at the checkout line is a sure-fire way to get some silly lady to let you go ahead so you can get your movies!)