At the grocery store I picked up the two things I needed to buy and joined the short line, the one marked “15 Items or Less.” I was in a hurry and I was hungry. I’d just resisted picking up one of the $1.69 medium-sized bags of potato chips. Then, when I glanced at the basket of groceries the woman in line behind me was holding, I saw she had some small snacks – the bags that are 3 for a dollar – and one of them contained potato chips. My good luck!
I asked her if I could have the checker scan the chips so I could pick up my own small bag on the way out. She said, “You can have it, I don’t need all three of them.” I was really happy to pay for this convenient end to feeling hungry and, suggesting that we make it a fair exchange, I held out a dollar bill.
She said, “No, honey, you go ahead and just take it. I have to do something good for five people every day, and this makes you the third.”
There was a pause, a moment of silence, as all of us close enough to have heard what she said took in her kindness. We were surprised, and approving. Then the checker, the white-haired woman who was third in line, and I all said something about wanting to copy her.
Choosing to be thoughtful, kind, and generous like the woman in the grocery store is not common these days. Doing good things for other people is not highly valued. What we see around us most of the time are actions based on our competitive drive for individual success. Whether we strive to cling to our place in the world or to have grander possessions and higher status, we clamber over each other to get what we want. Especially in this last year, what’s being copied in our society is aggressive, hostile, and selfish behavior: there is a contagion of nastiness.
How fine it would be if, instead, we were catching kindness.
(The potato chips were delicious.)