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by Mary Cook

Imagine what forethought, effort and care lie behind the rows of products displayed on the shelves of your local grocery store. A friend with two young children plays a game with them when they go shopping. They imagine the people—now invisible—who set out the beautiful fruit, the fresh vegetables, the bottles of peanut butter, the bags of rice and the packages of candy. They wonder: When did they do all this work? Where are they now? What are they doing? Who are they with? The children readily grasp the fact that they are connected to strangers and are benefiting from what they have done.


We can turn the story around and ask ourselves how our actions and words affect other people. We tell a joke to a friend and she laughs. We hold the shop door open for another customer, and he smiles as he enters. The chain of cause and effect is endless. Maybe the grumpiness of a sales clerk isn't really meant for me, but is spillover from a previous unpleasant encounter with someone else. As I imagine this possibility, I move to break that unfortunate chain by being especially courteous and friendly to her.

Of course actions like stocking the store shelves are compensated for by money, but that doesn't eliminate the fundamental reality that we depend upon other people for things we need and other people depend on us. With this thought in mind, I shovel the snow on the side walk just in front of my house and I shovel past it as well, imagining how much my elderly neighbor will enjoy being able to stroll down the whole block in the bright winter sunshine.