Monday, February 23, 2009

The Judge At Wal*Mart

E.F. Benson wrote, "There is no surer way of calling the worst out of anyone than that of taking their worst as being their true selves; no surer way of bringing out the best than by only accepting that as being true of them." I find this quote pretty powerful. And, timely.

A new acquaintance of mine, Toni, shared a very disturbing, yet all too common, occurrence that happened recently at Wal*Mart of all places. Imagine...a disturbing occurrence at a Wally World. There are times when shopping there, that I recall a comment Michael made once when the store was stuffed with odd individuals, "Wonder where all these Carney folk hang-out the rest of the time?!" Which would be pretty flip and funny, if I wasn't also at the Wal*Mart. So much for my feeling smug and like I'm all-that...

Toni was packed in line when, from several aisles away, she hears a woman yelling. The yelling turned truly blue. Everyone began staring at this woman cursing and threatening at the top of her lungs, to beat her children if they didn't do as she directed. F Bombs, etc, boiled out of her mouth. No one intervened. Froze in place. Embarrassed. All clearly uncomfortable.

What upset Toni the most was that the only people who weren't effected by her bad behavior were her children who continued what they were doing. Totally oblivious to the woman's rant. Which means, her cursing and behavior have become the wallpaper of their lives. They don't even notice or 'hear' it anymore. However, you and I know verbal stones like that leave a mark on the spirit even if they aren't registered by the ears.

Toni's initial reaction, like most around her, was stunned shock. Then she felt the urge to get in the woman's face and give her what she was giving. Discretion took hold so she stayed away. Conflicted, yes, but she didn't escalate the situation further by confronting her.

Then the most remarkable thing happened; Toni considered that she might walk up to the woman and say quietly, "'Hey, are you all right? Could you use some help?" She didn't do that, either. Afterward, she sat in her truck and cried because she felt like she let an opportunity slip by. An opportunity when she might have made a critical difference.

Lots of people weighed in on this story of hers. Most, in trying to help Toni feel better, called it like they saw it about the apparent ignorant behavior of this woman who acted like trailer trash. Some had suggestions of how to effectively punish her by reporting her for child endangerment or abuse to the authorities. A normal reaction, I'd say.

But is normal what is needed here? It is so easy, when a Human Being is behaving badly, to go immediately to a judging place. And, to decide that the bad behavior you witness is the sum total of the person. To dismiss that they may have any redeeming qualities at all. The place where we secure our own position of superiority by looking down from the moral high ground. "I'd never behave in such a manner." "I'm a superior parent and role-model." "Clearly, there is something wrong with this woman." "Oh, how disgusting!"

It's a predictable reaction, when we have our senses assaulted, to think these things. So, I am completely impressed with Toni's moment of clarity when she considered that, perhaps the best thing to do for this woman and those children, was to offer a compassionate response. One that defused the situation through openness and an offer of support.

In all probability, she would have been met with, "Who the hell do you think you are? Mind your own damn business!" But, that's not important. What is important is that Toni was given a moment of grace when she considered a better way. She continued her good work sharing the episode. And, that gave us a moment of grace to consider how we might do better.

So, Toni did a great deal to intervene, even though she felt as if she had failed miserably.

This is a prime example of the concept of being A Peaceful Warrior. You've heard me speak of bushi. I first came to this Japanese concept while training in Aikido. What you learn as you progress through martial arts training is that true, Bushi-do/Warrior's Way, is peace in action. Even if the action appears to be aggressive or physical. The action is taken only for the purposes of securing peace and harmony. You deflect hostile force with equal positive force, in order to neutralize its impact.

As it relates to Toni, she neutralized the negative impact of this Wal*Mart patron through her soul searching and wondering what she could do to make things better. And, by telling us so we can wonder the same. Our thoughts now combine to spread more understanding and compassion to the world through her experience.

When you find yourself in a situation that brings out the judge in you, remember that you are being given the opportunity to be a Peaceful Warrior, instead. You cannot know what the person, who is acting out, is going through so you can't effectively judge. That's not your job anyway. Your job is to learn to meet each individual eye-to-eye. On equal footing, not from a false position of superiority believing you know best. Your job is to act as Spirit's agent. Your job is to be the loving face of Spirit in an unkind, unjust world. Your job is to be a reflection of Spirit.

That's a much harder task; judging is easy. But, taking up the challenge of always seeing the truth and goodness of a Human Being and gently reminding them of it, does service to everyone. It's the way of the Peaceful Warrior. Trust that all experiences are for your highest spiritual growth and development. Especially those which make you uncomfortable and stretch you into new ways of thinking and being.

Thanks, Toni. You made a huge difference by being in Wal*Mart this weekend.

Namaste' Till Next Time,


Toni said...

Thanks for this post, Holly! I also saved your email from Saturday, did me such a world of good!

chrisk said...

I love this post, but I really loved Michael's comment. I busted out laughing and then had to tell Ron.

chrisk said...

I had a Wal-Mart moment. I took my daughter to the dr's and there were a bunch of parents with sick and well kids. One mom caught my eye and I couldn't stop staring at her. She had a very young son in her lap and a toddler aged daughter beside her, and she kept drifting off to sleep/passing out in the waiting room of the office. I wanted to say something but couldn't. My mouth was glued shut, not wanting to interfere but transfixed and distrubed by what I was watching. All I could think of is that this women probably has fallen asleep at home, or while driving with her kids around, that are too young to care for themselves. I'm ashamed to say that I didn't mention anything either to Nathalie's doctor. The memory is still disturbing me.

Anonymous said...

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Montreal, Qc Canada
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