Home > Communication, Learning, Personal > grocery store sages

grocery store sages

In April, I wrote about coming to understand people as processes, not fixed states. My reflections were inspired, in part, by former NYU professor Neil Postman, my favorite teacher yet on the art of perspectiving.

His lessons have been especially helpful at the grocery store the last few months. At the heavier end of my weight scale, I’ve gotten a lot of commentary about what’s in my basket. “Oh, that’s a lot of chips!” someone will exclaim. “Do you know where the greens are?” another will ask.

The first couple of times I got comments like these, I laughed aloud. I didn’t really get where these comments were coming from, but thought it was so funny that strangers thought I’d value their ill informed assessments.

The third or fourth time, I still chuckled quietly, but I was curious. What was going on, that 150-pound me got no grocery cart comments, ever, but that 200-pound me averages one a week?

Thanks to Neil Postman, the answer became clear virtually as soon as I began asking the question. These grocery store commenters were making snap judgments based on limited data. They were looking at me and seeing not a process but a fixed state; instead of seeing this moment as one frame of a very lengthy movie, they saw the moment and confused it for the movie.

After I figured this out, I kept laughing. How absurd, for these folks to think they know a person based on a frame’s data, and then to stage a mini-intervention!

Things that can be seen in a single grocery store visit: the shopper’s current weight; top layer of contents of cart

Things that cannot be seen in a single grocery store visit (non-comprehensive list): the shopper’s weight for the rest of their lifetime; the eighteen pounds of greens below the chips; grief; stress; childhood trauma that has enduring impacts into adulthood; the 30-60 minutes someone walks/does yoga/bounces on a trampoline daily; the 2-3 cups of greens eaten with virtually every meal, most of which are Paleo; the non-Paleo beer consumed for months to take the edge off pain; the 2.5 hours spent in traffic daily moving to and away from a desk job; etc.

Apart from offering me a chance to laugh, these grocery store sages have given me another gift. They’ve reminded me to remain aware of my own human propensity to confuse a frame for the entire film.

Neil Postman wrote, “You cannot avoid making judgments, but you can become more conscious of the way you make them.” I’m definitely not catching all my judgments, but I’m getting better by the day.

This was especially clear about two weeks ago, when I sat reading in a coffee shop. One particular sentence in the book I was reading, Kelly Brogan’s A Mind of Your Own, practically jumped off the page at me.

For a few months now, I’ve been looking at someone I love and assuming–with some bemusement–certain inspirations for certain behaviors. Brogan’s sentence revealed a whole different set of possible explanations, whapping me on the head with a reminder how little of that personal film I can see. From 1,000 frames, I’ve been filling in the millions I cannot see. I have not been doing so with nuance, instead using broad strokes.

As the pounds slide off me now, having set aside the beer and added meditation+, I’m sure I still have weeks to months of grocery store sage commentary ahead. I’ll keep laughing, naturally; that comes easily.

I’ll also aim to use their words as a reminder. I’m making judgments, too, and the grocery store sages’ words can be my ongoing call to not confuse my own limited perception with reality.

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  1. Nemorino
    August 7, 2017 at 6:44 am

    2.5 hours spent in traffic daily — that really does sound awful. (Assuming you are going by car and not by bicycle.) Could it be that your grocery store commentators have similar commutes and are venting their accumulated road rage on you?

    • August 7, 2017 at 7:31 am

      That could certainly be a part of it! I imagine there being dozens to hundreds of varying factors influencing these things, different for each person.

  2. August 7, 2017 at 12:37 pm

    My husband and I don’t own a vehicle, so we rent a U-Haul cargo van once a month to do all of our shopping. I can only imagine the sort of judgements people might be making looking into our cart filled with a months worth of groceries and assuming that we plan on eating all of it in the coming week, since weekly shopping trips are the norm for most people. So far people have kept their comments to themselves though.

    • August 7, 2017 at 4:53 pm

      I hope they continue to do so! Honestly, these comments remind me of conversations I have with Littler J, who likes telling people what he does and does not want them to do. I often have to say things like, “Worry less about them and more about you!” Fingers crossed the concept takes early …

  3. August 7, 2017 at 3:24 pm

    We NEED to make judgements as safety (physical and mental) issues. And make a lot more as well. My voluntary work stresses listening from a non-judgemental place. Not always possible, but I do my best not to let those judgements show, and in so doing learn…

    • August 7, 2017 at 4:50 pm

      For health and safety stuff, it’s essential to make judgments! For other stuff, though, I’m seeing more and more how those judgments hurt the judger with no corresponding benefit anywhere in the world. I’d say they’re useless, but they’re worse, because the stories they tell prop up other destructive stories. Best, then, to let it go for superfluous matters …

  4. August 8, 2017 at 5:11 am

    Wow! I can’t even imagine somebody making those kinds of comments to a stranger, as if it’s any of their business. Here, at least when they do it, they keep it to themselves, I guess that’s one of the benefits of living in the south.

  5. Holly
    August 10, 2017 at 8:36 am

    Welcome to my world. If get something not-diet, I get looks. If I get something diet-y , I get “oh, you’ll get there eventually!” type of comments on weight loss. Cannot win, really wish we had grocery delivery where I live.

  1. August 18, 2017 at 1:55 pm

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