Doing The Right Thing

by Cynthia Johnson on June 3, 2013

Have you ever found yourself walking into a public place on an average day doing a mindless task and  a stranger grabs your attention and it seems you go to the same aisle or you end up in the same checkout line, and from the very first moment you see them, there is something almost familiar – they turn out to be a consequential stranger.

The other day I was rushing to get my errands completed, and last stop was for pet supplies.  The second I walked in the store I saw her, a white haired woman tiny and frail, clinging to a shopping cart with a large hump on her lower back that looked to be so disabling I really don’t know how she was walking as well as she was. I wheeled past her, picked up my cat litter, and then lo and behold, there she was in the same aisle my cat’s brand of food was.  She was very friendly and chatting with one of the employee’s of the store.  I went on a search for another item, made my way to the check out, and who was in front of me?  My little white haired consequential stranger.

As I began unloading my cart, I noticed the cashier, a young girl, with her hand extended with a few small bills as the woman rummaged through her purse randomly placing small amounts of change on the counter muttering something about “her kitty”. I felt embarrassed for her, the young cashier was extremely kind, and yet I could see she was frustrated because her drawer would be short, and as the elderly customer was writing down her address and her license number, I could not take it any longer and I leaned in quietly and asked the cashier how much she needed, “1.57.” , I handed her 2 dollars, the woman was very grateful but worried about how she would pay me back, I told her it was my good deed for the day, and she finally went on her way.   And if you have ever been in that position yourself, I then felt embarrassed because they acted as if I was a hero, I was no hero, I did the right thing, but I became so uncomfortable I just wanted to get out of the store and in my car.  As fate continued unfolding she was parked straight across from me, I watched the woman get into her car and I wondered, what is her life like?   Is she able to afford her own groceries? Does she have anyone to help her?  I suddenly felt very grateful I had a straight spine and the abundance in my life.

It got me thinking about how incredibly easy it is to do the right thing.  You don’t think about it, you just do it.  Most people would, and do especially on a larger scale.  Doing the right thing is easy. Really it is. It takes no thought, and in fact thinking usually screws it up. You hear it all the time, they are interviewing the person who ran into a burning building to save someone, and they are asked, “what were you thinking running in there?” and they always reply…”I wasn’t. I just heard the person screaming, there was no time to think.” and a typical person on a typical day meets their consequential stranger, and an ordinary day becomes life changing.

So why do we struggle so to do the right thing when it comes to ourselves?  I talk to so many people who are in the wrong jobs, the wrong relationships, say the wrong things, including yes, when they should say no.  Why do we complicate our lives by doing the wrong things?  It may seem easier in that uncomfortable moment, when you are thinking no, but yes comes out, but ultimately, it exacts a huge cost.

Somehow, sometimes it is easier to be nicer to a stranger than to ourselves or each other. We are not keeping score with strangers are we?  They are like fragments of our own lives, characterized by a random stranger in a store or on the street.   You hope that someone would be kind to your Grandma or to your child, or maybe you wished someone had been kinder to you.   You see the innocence and fragility of life in a stranger and for a few minutes you see a rawness that exists in all of us.

Don’t take so much time to think.  Respond with the knowingness that is always there.  If you find you can’t do the “right thing” rather than making the wrong decision, don’t make any decision.  Give yourself a moment and then find the courage to do the right thing it’s easier than you think. The worst part is in that split second right before you do or do not do the right thing.  That is usually when the critical voice begins. They call it random acts of kindness not random thoughts of kindness. People can’t hear your thoughts, but they can see and benefit from your actions.   Just do it. You will be glad you did, and you may be the smile that gives someone hope, the sustenance that feeds someone’s soul or simply the food on a hungry kitty’s plate that is filling a void in a fading woman’s life.

Be sure you are paying attention because life happens suddenly while doing the most mundane things, and often when we are among familiar strangers.



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