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Reaching out to others PDF Print E-mail


By Mary Friedel-Hunt

I made a stop at a grocery store in a nearby town today and as I was checking out, I realized I forgot my checkbook. I told the clerk I would use my credit card and that I was not quite awake yet (It was 10 a.m., what can I say?). I said this mostly in an effort to get any kind of sign from her that she was friendly. She responded, telling me with no expression on her face that she had been awake since 5 a.m. I asked her how late she had to work and tried to make some more small talk with her. She went on to tell me that she was working in order to make payments on her truck. We chatted a little bit and I went on my way.

As I walked toward my car, I thought about this woman and the pain and anger that emanated from her as she rang up purchases for customers. None of us know the stories that people carry with them on their journeys through life.

As a therapist for 40 years, I have listened to an endless number of painful stories. A new client can walk in my office and be friendly and chatty and then within 10 minutes be swept away with the sorrow and pain she is carrying; another with anger and rage, and yet another with old grief that was never dealt with at the time of the loss. All of these folks could be your neighbor or the person in front of you in that grocery store line. Everyone has a story. Some more painful than others if we can even compare pain.

The bottom line is that none of us is in a position to judge another person. None of us can really walk in the shoes of our neighbors. My pain, though it may initially look like yours, is far different because the pieces that make up the story are unique to me. We cannot compare losses, be they the result of a job loss, a death, a divorce or any kind of loss.

What we can do is listen. We can choose not to judge anyone and just reach out to them with compassion and kindness.

When we are checking out at the grocery store and the checker seems removed, angry or tired, we can reach out by asking them a simple question or making a statement like, “I bet you are tired this late in the day.” It means stepping out of our own lives, our own pain, our own stories, while we also use that pain and story to have compassion for someone else.

It takes only a tiny bit of energy to reach into someone else’s life while respecting their need for privacy and space. Just let those folks know you care. Some people have no one who listens to them. You might be that person for just two minutes and how wonderful is that?


Mary Friedel-Hunt, MA LCWS, is a freelance writer and psychotherapist in the Madison area. She can be reached at This e-mail address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it. or P.O. Box 1036, Spring Green, WI 53588.


Tuesday, February 19, 2013 4:03 PM

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