Empathy and Understanding Beat Being Right

Robyn Norman
4 min readNov 4, 2019

Respect everyone…no exceptions is a powerful intention

Photo by Annie Spratt on Unsplash

“Ours is not the task of fixing the entire world all at once, but of stretching out to mend the part of the world that is within our reach.” — Clarissa Pinkola Estes

Respect everyone…no exceptions is a mantra that I adopted after I participated in an incident that showed me a part of myself that made me feel ashamed. That part of me held a mountain of expectations and rules regarding what someone should be like — essentially, I was sometimes unconsciously waiting for them to fall short so I could find a reason to see them as undeserving of my respect. It has, at times, been alarming to see the judgments I hold.

I was standing in a check-out line with a small purchase and remembered I wanted some cash back. I had a sore back and had waited in line for twenty minutes to reach the checker, so I wasn’t in the best mood. I asked for twenty dollars back. She rang up the item and ran my bank card, but forgot to include the twenty dollars. She told me I would have to go to Customer Service to correct the problem. It was here that I could have saved the day, but I didn’t.

I went to customer service and stood in line, fuming. They sent me back to the same checker. She directed me to the end of her line and told me I would have to wait in line and then buy something else to get cash back because the previous transaction was complete. I was astounded and angry, and huffed out of the store in righteous indignation, at that moment unaware of my role in creating that embarrassing experience.

Here’s the truth. In the very beginning, when the checker made the mistake of not giving me the cash back, I could have purchased a pack of gum while I was standing there, gotten my twenty dollars with that second purchase, and walked away with mission accomplished. I was so caught up in my judgments and self-righteous indignation I could not, would not, see that I was behaving with profound knuckleheadedness.

I’ll bet that the checker was just as embarrassed and unsure of herself as I was, so she wasn’t thinking any straighter than me. We had more in common in that interaction than I could admit when it was happening. I was unable to put myself in her shoes, and respect how demanding her job might…

Robyn Norman

Therapist, mindfulness coach, writer. Obsessed with relationships and helping people enjoy them more. https://robynnorman.medium.com/subscribe