Several weeks ago I was at Shaw's grocery store in Porter Square. After I had fetched my groceries I went to the checkout line and there was one woman ahead of me. She seemed to be in some sort of terrible mood as she almost violently pulled out her wallet to pay. The cashier was a very smily older Asian woman, who continued to smile at this scowling customer.
Pointing to the receipt, the kindly cashier said, "If you call this number on your receipt you will be entered to win a cash prize."
"I DON'T HAVE TIME FOR THAT, I DON'T USE A COMPUTER!" replied the woman.
"Oh, you don't need a computer, you just have to --"
"NO!" And she snatched the receipt, grabbed her groceries, and stormed off. The woman who bagged her groceries most definitely threw her a disapproving look.
So it was my turn to pay, and I said to the cashier, "Well, that wasn't very nice." She just smiled and said, "I guess she's having a bad day!" I couldn't help but giggle...I thought, "Wow, what a grounded person. Most people would be pretty pissed if someone else projected all that unnecessary crap onto them for no reason."
It's so easy to have negative feelings towards others when they act unskillfully (to use Buddhist terminology). But if you try and look at it from their point of view, it's easier to have compassion for them. My initial instinct was to start cursing silently at this rude customer..."What the hell is your problem? The cashier is only doing her job and she's being totally nice and you start yelling at her..." etc etc etc. But it's so important to look beyond these actions and realize that there is a human being with a heart underneath the sheath of negativity. Perhaps she was having a bad day. Perhaps she was having a REALLY bad day and a loved one passed away. Who knows. I most certainly will never know. But assuming that this woman is inherently mean doesn't help me feel compassionate towards her. So even if there was not one remotely redeeming quality about this person, the only thing left I could do is just hope that she doesn't continue to suffer.
By the way I'm currently reading Joseph Goldstein's INSIGHT MEDITATION. It's amazing.