It’s not often that I’m tasked with grocery shopping, but it led to an interesting insight this past week – a stark realization of how assumptions and habits are holding us back from quality of life.
I needed berries, for a special dessert. A lady ahead of me at the self-serve berry counter was picking over the selections, deliberately transferring prime berries from one container to another, licking her fingers in the process. I could only wait and observe because she had her cart and person directly between me and the berries.
What would be the proper course of action here? Call her out? Alert the nearest store employee? Walk away? As I deliberated, she moved on, leaving several containers open and violated. I did nothing, to my shame, selecting the best of what remained and saying nothing.
Later, I speculated on what her response might have been, had I raised my objections to her behavior . . . “I was here first, take your turn!’ “Everyone does it, what’s your objection?” Hostile silence? Embarrassment? I’ll never know!
Whatever, I tolerated it, even condoned the objectionable behavior by my silence. How often is this scenario likely to be repeated, reinforcing the destructive divisions we tolerate in society.
If I’d been more empathic, I could have raised her awareness without undue embarrassment. I might have asked her how she was determining the quality of the berries she was seeking, or perhaps commented on the general condition of the produce. Either could have alerted her to her (perhaps) unconscious actions.
The issue is, however, much deeper, as well as pervasive in our society – the assumption that we are all separate individuals, divorced one from another. The truth is that we share far more identity than could ever separate us. Empathy is our essential safeguard and a sure deterrent for possible conflict.
When will I ever learn?