Being able to feel our way into another's soul, to sense what is going on behind their social mask, is the passcode to kindness. A friend gave me a quote a few months ago, a one-liner from the Jewish sage Philo of Alexandria, that I haven't been able to get out of my head: "Be kind, for everyone you meet is fighting a great battle." I've found, with a little practice, I can at least get this far.

"Sorry about the wait," the cashier apologizes. It has been a long time. She's been moving like molasses; the line at her register creeps forward by millimeters. According to the unwritten laws of retail, I'm entitled to a small display of petulance. Instead, I try to take her point of view. She's been on her feet all day. She's harried and underpaid. The job is repetitive, and impatient customers treat her like an appliance. "Hey, it's okay," I tell her, looking back at the line. "There's only one of you and ten of us; we've got you outnumbered." She smiles, shooting me a relieved look, and I feel good to have made someone's day easier. I've been lately trying to do this — a compassion miniaturist — as much as I can. It's a trick of sorts — I feel like a kid with a new magic kit; the multiplying rabbits, or more, the disappearing thumb — but amazingly, it works almost every time.

To Practice: When you find yourself getting irritated or judgmental with someone, imagine what great battle they are fighting. Try to take their point of view. Then respond to the person with kindness and compassion.

Marc Ian Barasch in Field Notes on the Compassionate Life