A few years ago I was with a close friend in a grocery store. As we snaked along the aisles, we became aware of a mother with a small boy going in the opposite direction and passing us in each aisle. The woman barely noticed us because she was so furious with her child, who seemed intent on pulling items off the lower shelves. As the mother became more and more frustrated, she started to yell at her son and, several aisles later, progressed to shaking him by the arm.

At this point my friend spoke up. A wonderful mother of three and founder of a progressive school, she had probably never in her life treated any child so harshly. I expected that my friend would give this woman a solid mother-to-mother talk about controlling herself and about the effect this kind of behavior has on a child. Braced for a confrontation, I felt a spike of adrenaline.

Instead my friend said, "What a beautiful little boy. How old is he?" The woman answered cautiously, "He's 3." My friend went on to say how curious he seemed and how her own three children behaved in the grocery store, pulling things off shelves, so interested in all the wonderful colors and packages. "He seems so bright and intelligent," my friend said. The woman had the boy in her arms by now, and a shy smile came to her face. Gently brushing the hair out of his eyes, she said, "Yes, he's very smart and curious, but sometimes he wears me out." My friend responded sympathetically, "They can do that; they're so full of energy."

As we walked away, I heard the mother speaking more kindly to the boy about getting home and cooking his dinner. "We'll have your favorite—macaroni and cheese," she told him.

If you don't need to prove that you are right or that someone else's behavior should be punished, you can better see your way to achieving harmony in any given situation. My friend instinctively knew that reprimanding the mother in the grocery store might have incited her to greater rage—rage that might later have been directed at the child. Although there are times when it is necessary to stop someone physically from hurting another person, more often it is helpful that we show love and understanding to those lost in anger, allowing them to remember their own tenderness.

Each of us can share tender mercies throughout the day. These small kindnesses toward friends, family or strangers may go unnoticed by the world at large, but in offering them, by letting love flow through us, we will generate a field of sacredness. And that is its own reward.

This excerpt is from Ingram's book, Passionate Presence.

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