The Time I Felt a Lack of Compassion for Someone Who Was Struggling, And What I Learned From It

Have you ever judged someone without knowing the whole story behind why they were acting the way they were? Read this…

A number of years ago, after food shopping at a grocery store, I got into the checkout line to pay. The store was busy, and the line up to reach the cashier was long.

After being in the lineup for some time, I eventually noticed that the cashier seemed really grouchy and irritable with each customer she dealt with.

The customer in front of me, for example, told the cashier that he thought he’d been overcharged for an item she’d just rung in. The cashier rudely responded that he was mistaken, and the price he’d been charged was indeed the price of the item.

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I thought, “Wow, his woman is so rude!”

When it came time to ring in my items, the clerk was short and irritable with me, too. I kept thinking, “I can’t wait to get out of here.”

The person bagging my groceries asked me if I’d like some help taking them to my car. I said “Yes, thanks!” feeling relieved to finally leave the agitated cashier behind.

As we approached the car and I opened the trunk, I turned to the young man and started to gossip…

“I think that’s the rudest cashier I’ve ever encountered in my life.”

The young man, who couldn’t have been more than 18 years old, looked to me and replied:

“Oh, I know. She’s having a horrible day. Yesterday, her son was hit by a car while riding his bike. He’s now in intensive care in the hospital. She wanted to be at the hospital with him, but she’s a single mom and couldn’t afford to take the day off. So she’s here.”

Instantly, my heart sank.

As I drove out of the parking lot and onto the street, and started heading back home to my four healthy kids, I imagined how it might feel to be in her position.

If one of my children was injured and was in the hospital, I wouldn’t have had to worry about losing a day’s pay… I’d be able to come and sit next to their intensive care bed.

And yet, I’d been judging a mother who didn’t have that privilege, because I didn’t know her whole story.


The moment I knew her story, I couldn’t help but feel compassion for her.

I asked myself, “Did I really have to wait to hear her story before I could feel compassion?”

Most of us have heard the saying, “Be kind, for everyone is fighting their own battle.”

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I began to think: “If it’s in my nature to be compassionate when I understand what’s really going on in someone’s life, even when they’re acting in a way that I might otherwise be inclined to judge… is there a possibility that I could learn to go straight to compassion without the judgement? Do I really have to know the whole story in order to feel compassion?”

I began to go to work on that.

I realized that everybody has a story, and even with a parent or my best friend, I will never know their whole story.

So I’ve learned that it’s best to start with compassion, even when you don’t know everything.

Over the years, I’ve found this to be a great spiritual practice.

Whenever someone is doing something that I want to judge or get defensive about, I remind myself:

“If I knew the whole story, I would feel compassion, so I’m going to go ahead and cut them some slack here.”

I call it “giving extra grace” to someone when I don’t know their whole story, but I do know that they have one.

If you have someone in your life toward whom you’ve been feeling impatient, annoyed or judgmental, you can remind yourself that you don’t know the whole story, and choose to treat them with respect and compassion.

The key to showing even more compassion for the people around you is to make it a daily practice.

Think about practicing compassion when you interact with others throughout your day…

Because even a smile, or a kind word, or doing an errand or chore for someone, can change their whole day and yours in such a positive way!

You can listen, suspend judgement, give your undivided attention, and mentally put yourself in their situation… remembering the whole person and knowing there is more to them than just a particular  interaction.

You can reflect on it at night in a journal or talk it over with family before you go to bed.  In this way, it becomes a part of your daily life.

As the Dalai Lama also said, “This is my simple religion. There is no need for temples. No need for complicated philosophy. Our own brain, our own heart is our temple. The philosophy is kindness.”

Practicing compassion is not always easy…

There are times it may be challenging to exercise your compassion muscle for certain people, and that is totally normal!

But you can give yourself a pat on the back for having compassionate intentions.

And Now, Let’s Take Action…

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Categories: Happiness, Mindset

Comments (7)

  • Norma Winter

    Thank you for this message. I needed this understanding at this time. I am feeling annoyed by someone’s behavior and finding it very hard to be compassionate. I am working on it. I do not know the whole story and that is were I will have to start.
    Thank you for opening my eyes with the solution for this situation. I can free myself of the burden by being compassionate. Peace

  • Thank you for this it has just changed the way I will behave in future,
    Be happy this year and much love,

  • Olaibi Kayode Adeola

    Really this story is so impressed me, I would have said I haven’t read something like this before. Judging someone without knowing the story behind their act.

  • I’ve experienced that too and now I do my best not to judge right away and say a kind word or just a smile. I’ve noticed it usually shifts the situation. We’re all just normal people and we all have bad days. I’m just more aware of it and I feel really greateful. I write it in my daily journal;

  • Susan Siler

    This article was particularly helpful to me.

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