Cathy-Hird-grocery-lineBy Cathy Hird

When someone pointed out the way I often use questions in my writing, I got to thinking that sometimes a question presses our point. How do we initiate open dialogue? Consider these three ways of entering the same issue: waiting.

What happens to you when you find yourself in a long, slow line at the grocery store? What do you think about as you watch the person three ahead struggle to get their groceries loaded? Does your heart start to race when the person two ahead of you has a problem with the price that has come up? How do you feel when the cashier finds a hole in a bag of rice and waits for a service person to bring back another exactly the same?

Does waiting make you physically uncomfortable? Is it hard to stand still? Do your legs get tingly? Does your back start to hurt? Do you feel the restlessness in your fingertips as you tap on the cart?

I invite you to take a moment to notice how you react to being pushed into imagining the situation, and then try this version.

Remember a time when you tried to make a quick stop at a grocery store, but found yourself in a long, slow line. Remember what made the line slow.

Remember where you felt the waiting. Did your mind race away to where you needed to be? Did your feet and hands get restless? Did your back and shoulders tense up?

Remember how you tried to deal with the feelings and the sensations. Did you look at the other lines and wonder if you should shift? Did you make a list of what you would do when you actually made it to the cashier? Or did you choose someone in the next line over and make up a story about their day in your head?

I wonder if I got the questions right so that I helped you remember your experience, or if I got you all wrong. If I got your wrong, then I probably turned you off and you may have clicked on another story by now. If I haven't turned you off completely, try this.

I am notoriously bad at choosing a line. At the border, I am guarenteed to choose the slowest. At a busy grocery store, I am not much better.

I do look for a short line, but then the cashier is super patient with the person who brought along the flyer and is certain that they picked up the brand that's on sale. I tap my foot faster and faster while the cashier finds the page and shows them that they got the wrong type or the wrong size. My fingers tense up on the cart when I realize that the call for a service person came from the line up I am in. Sometimes I glare at the person who wants a replacement for the bag of rice that somehow got a hole in it.

I know I should be as patient as the cashier is when an elderly woman's debit card does not work the first time. I know that I had a hard time when my over-tired children screamed and screamed while I tried to get the cart emptied. I remember people who gave me dirty looks and those who reassured me that it was not my fault. With that memory, I try to look sympathetic. On those occasions that I recover patience and compassion, I step out of my line and play peek a boo with the irritated toddler.

The trouble with some questions is that they are not open. The right answer is implied. Designing an open-ended question, one that truly invites the other's reflection is hard. Even when telling a story, it is tempting to do it in a way that pushes our point rather than inviting a reader to uncover their own reactions and thoughts.

If we are preaching a point we are certain of, maybe that is okay. But if we are seeking a dialogue, or just presenting an opportunity for another's refection, telling our story without pressing our point is much more open. We might ourselves learn something new from the listener's reaction.


Cathy Hird is a farmer, minister and writer living near Walters Falls.




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