Compassion is the Most Vital Tool of my Trade.

Cashiering in a supermarket may not seem like a very rewarding position to most. But to me it is. You see, I feel that my job consists of a lot more than ringing up orders, taking peoples money, and bagging their groceries. The most important part of my job is not the obvious. Rather it’s the manner in which I present myself to others that will determine whether my customers will leave the store feeling better or worse because of their brief encounter with me. For by doing my job well I know I have a chance to do Gods work too. Because of this, I try to make each of my customers feel special. While I’m serving them, they become the most important people in my life.

Recently, an elderly man came to my register. I sensed immediately, by the expression on his face, that he was lonely. I wanted to brighten his day. But, how? I wondered. He had failed to 

respond to my smile, nor had he replied to my genuine greeting of “How are you today?” As I began to ring his order, I spotted a box of birdseed.

“Oh, I see you have a pet bird too. Aren’t they fun?” I asked. Suddenly a warm smile appeared on his face. Then he began telling me all about his parakeet.

You know, that little fellow is real company to me since my wife, Mary, passed away six months ago.”

“It must be difficult to cope with the loss of a loved one,” I commented thoughtfully as I placed his bundles into his shopping cart. “It certainly is,” he sighed heavily. “We were married for fifty years, my Mary and me,” he added–his eyes twinkling brightly from his memory.”

“How wonderful. Please come back and visit with me soon. I really enjoyed talking with you today,” I told him as he started to leave.

“You bet,” he answered. I noticed that although the loneliness on his face was still there, it had diminished somewhat.

My heart felt light. For I realised that I had done something worthwhile today. I had taken a few minutes to care and listen to a fellow human being, succeeding in making at least a tiny difference in this one, precious life.

………Compassion is the most vital tool of my trade. There are many sad stories to be heard while ringing up grocery orders. Many times I find I’m called upon to help nurture the emotional state of a shopper–just as the food they’re buying will provide nourishment to their bodies. Hearing of death, terminal illness, fatal accidents, and broken homes are all part of my job. During such times I try my utmost to listen with my heart, not only my ears. Often a single word of understanding or a mere look of genuine concern is just the right dose of medicine to help heal a bruised heart. When I succeed in easing some of the pain of another human being, it is then that I realise just how important my job as a simple cashier is.

The title of that article is Compassion is the most vital tool of my trade.  Whatever we do and wherever we do it – can we say the same?


(Maxine F. Dennis, “Compassion is the Most Vital Tool of My Trade” in Of Human Hands: A Reader in Spirituality of Work ed. Gregory F. Augustine Pierce (Chicago: Augsburg and ACTA Publications, 1991, 49-51)


Filed under The Ramblings of a Reformed Ecclesiastic

2 responses to “Compassion is the Most Vital Tool of my Trade.

  1. Jane

    I f we could all start with one act of kindness each & every day that would be a good starting point…( regardless of what we do for a “living” ).


  2. so true, Jane – I found that when I was a healthcare chaplain, spiritual care was being given to patients by porters and domestics, even if they didn’t realise they were doing it


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