We can relate to others from positions of indifference, greed, jealousy or hatred. Or we can relate to others with kindness, consideration and compassion. Kindness comes from a position of goodwill. It’s when you make a situation easier for someone, assist or lift their spirits.
When you’re stressed and overwhelmed, when you think it won’t make much of a difference to the other person, it’s not easy to be kind. When you feel you might say or do the wrong thing, or you just don’t want to get too involved or have your kindness taken advantage of, it’s not easy to be kind. It’s not easy, but it’s not impossible.
There are limits, though. Establishing and maintaining limits is not about turning your kindness off – it’s knowing that you don’t have to feel obliged and totally responsible; that you don’t have to do something kind to help. There are so many good reasons to be kind. Being kind takes you out of yourself; it opens you up to others and broadens your perspective; it allows you to be aware of what’s happening around you, and to be aware of what’s happening for other people.
Kindness helps people feel respected, valued and worthy. It helps them to feel connected to others; to feel that they’re included, they belong and are appreciated. It makes them happy. Kindness can turn a negative situation into a positive one. If you can show a kindness to someone even though they’re being unreasonable, it can make you both feel better.
Kindness is contagious. Experiencing, seeing or hearing about acts of kindness inspires others to do something kind themselves. Kindness elevates all who come into contact with it. Kindness is attractive; it makes people want to be around you. Being kind to others encourages you to be kind to yourself!
Kindness and Empathy
Kindness – an ability and tendency that we all have from when we’re very young – is a combination of innate and learned behaviour. When we’re being kind, we are being true to our human nature. Empathy involves, if not understanding, at least trying to understand, how and what someone else – a real person, a fictional character or an animal – might be experiencing, thinking or feeling.
Like pity, sympathy and compassion, empathy can be an instinctive, automatic reaction to someone going through a difficult time. Concerned empathy is more considered and deliberate. You need to make an effort to understand what the other person is feeling or experiencing. You recognise a person’s feelings as valid and of worth – even if you don’t agree or feel the same way about a situation. You might not feel, for example, anxious in a particular situation, but you have felt anxious in another situation, so you can empathise with how they’re feeling.
The bottom line with empathy is getting that you might not get it. You don’t need to have experienced the same situation as someone else, you don’t have to agree with how they react to a situation to realise that, to a greater or lesser extent, they’re having a hard time. Being empathic doesn’t mean that you make the other person’s situation your own. We’re better at being kind and supporting others if we don’t suffer along with them.
You can’t take the pain or frustration away. But you can show your care, concern and compassion. One simple act can make a difference. Sometimes the simplest kindness you can give another human being is to acknowledge them. Listen. Don’t interrupt, pacify or offer solutions. Listen and try to understand what the other person is saying and feeling. Try to see things from their point of view. If you can do this, you’re being empathic.
Don’t say ‘I know how you feel’. Don’t give your thoughtful analysis of what went wrong and why and how to make tomorrow better. Instead, say something like: ‘I’m sorry that happened. It must be hard/confusing/annoying/disappointing/upsetting for you.’ Do ask questions, but don’t interrogate.
Do know that small gestures make a big difference. Do keep in touch: an email, text, a call, a card. Do bring treats. Do offer to do something normal. You may need to make the first move; to help without being asked, even if you’re not sure you’ll be doing the right thing. Do ask, ‘Would it help if I … ’ or say, ‘I would like to … Would this be okay, or is there something else I can help with?’
Do support the other person to identify things they can try to do themselves. Support them to get information and/or help. Share your experiences. Just say ‘That’s happened to me/happened to my friend. Let me know if you think it would be helpful for you to hear about it.’ The other person’s thoughts and feelings about their situation might be different to yours, but by sharing your own experience, they might pick up some insights rather than feel they’ve been told what to do.
Go Out of Your Way to Make a Difference
Being welcoming lets people know that you’re pleased they’re there and that they belong. Aim to be inclusive; to enable people to feel part of something; to feel that they can be involved in what you’re doing or talking about.
In social situations, be open to small talk. It’s not what you talk about – it’s simply about connecting; coming across as an approachable person who is open to exchanging a few pleasantries. Imagine that the other person is already your friend. Smile, ask questions, be interested and say something about yourself. You have an opportunity to be generous whenever you’re aware that extra effort on your part – with your time, your money, your possessions, your energy, skills, knowledge and encouragement –could make all the difference.
When you encourage someone, acknowledge the difficulties but point out what qualities and strengths they have that will help contribute to overcoming problems and achieving what they’re aiming for. Get the other person to visualise what success will look and feel like. Encourage them to identify what they can do and to take it one step at a time. Don’t, though, wait until they’ve succeeded or achieved their goal to say something positive. Acknowledge their efforts and point out what they’ve already achieved – that they’ve done so well already.
You’ve got a unique set of skills, knowledge and experiences. As a mentor, you can share the knowledge, the lessons, the experiences and the skills you’ve accumulated. Use your empathy: remember what it was like when you were inexperienced in an area of your life. Be sensitive to the unique needs of others. Recognise that your circumstances and how you coped may be different for someone else.
As an advocate, you can support someone by speaking or doing something on behalf of a person about issues that matter to them in situations where they don’t feel able to say or do something for themselves. If something strikes you as unfair or uncalled for, have courage and speak out. A firm, polite challenge is sometimes all that is needed.
Express appreciation to others: say thank you. Extend your appreciation further by acknowledging the positive difference that their actions had for you. People feel good if they know that they made a difference. So if what someone has done has had a positive effect on you, tell them; tell them how they helped or inspired you.
Compliments and praise should also be extended to someone who has achieved or overcome something, has made a special effort or put extra time into something that’s benefited someone else. Acknowledge personal qualities or special efforts. Compliment a person on an achievement, a job well done and on things you know they value and are proud of. Notice what someone is wearing and how they look and make a positive, appropriate comment.
If you can’t tell a person to their face, put it in writing. When you can, don’t just express appreciation, show it. When you show appreciation for something, you demonstrate your feelings through actions. You reciprocate; you give in return. Make kindness a habit: do something kind every day so that after a while, kindness becomes a habit – it becomes who you are.
Kindness and Respect
We often struggle to respect and accept other people’s choices, beliefs and abilities as valid and worthy. We judge and make assumptions about things that other people do that we don’t approve of, that we don’t understand or sympathise with. Replace your assumptions and judgments with kindness. Aim to be charitable; have a kindly perspective, interpretation and understanding of someone else’s difficulties and challenges, their failings and foibles, weaknesses and weirdnesses.
Other people are simply managing a situation in a different way than you would. Empathise. You don’t have to agree with how they’re doing it, but show them kindness anyway; give them the benefit of the doubt. Construct the most favourable interpretation that the facts allow. Concede that a person may be justified in behaving the way that they do.
Challenge your assumptions and prejudices by looking for what you share with people rather than what separates you from them. Not only do you not need to approve, very often you don’t even need to understand why someone is or isn’t doing something. You just need to accept; it is possible to accept without understanding.
If it doesn’t harm or violate you or someone else, you can choose to respect and accept their choice as valid; as having worth and value. Have patience. Patience can help you accept that people and situations develop at their own speed. Remind yourself that you can’t help someone from a position of impatience and judgment.
Being tactful is being honest in a way that considers and respects other people’s abilities and feelings. Tact shows respect and integrity. It helps avoid conflict and allows others to save face.
It’s not difficult to respond with tact; with both honesty and kindness. You simply say what aspects were good and suggest aspects that could be improved. Although you can’t avoid other people’s disappointment, you can say no and let them down gently and kindly. You can offer a compromise, an alternative: something in between or a variation of what they want that you can’t or don’t want to do.
Have courage! You can give bad news with honesty and kindness. Lay it out plainly; if you can, prepare what you’re going to say. Set the context: briefly explain what’s led to the situation. Anticipate the reaction and questions the other person might have. Say what, if anything, you can do to help. Focus on what can be done rather than what can’t be done.
Be empathic: listen to the other person; let them talk. Don’t say ‘I know just how you feel’, or ‘Try not to worry about it’. Listen and acknowledge what they say and how they feel. 5 Be Kind When Others are Rude and Inconsiderate
Be Kind When Others are Rude and Inconsiderate
When others are inconsiderate, rude or even hostile, it’s not easy to respond kindly. We assume the worst and typically either defend ourselves or attack. But often that just sets up a new cycle of rudeness and resentment. Forgiving someone isn’t letting them off, it’s simply letting go; letting go of the resentment, frustration or anger that you feel.
Try to keep an overall positive impression of others and keep their negative behaviour in the larger context of their good nature. Give them the benefit of the doubt. Look for reasonable explanations. Assume that if they’re deliberately being rude they’re just having a bad day and taking it out on the world. There will have been times when you were rude and inconsiderate. And you’re not a bad person. Next time somebody’s rude to you, remember that one incident of rudeness doesn’t mean they’re a bad person either.
Empathise; look for the feelings behind someone’s rudeness. They may be stressed, worried or upset, feel thwarted or disappointed; conditions that usually invite sympathy rather than offence. If you can respond with kindness, you may see them switch from rudeness to gratitude and appreciation.
Know when to let it go. If you can make an appropriate, kind gesture to the other person, go ahead. But if they reject it or if the person is getting het up – more rude and aggressive – walk away. Sometimes it’s better to hold back and avoid arguments. Do nothing. Say nothing. Kindness and respect are not just about what you do, they’re also about what you don’t do – what you hold back from doing.
If you do choose to respond, be assertive, not unkind. You just need to say you don’t like what someone did or said; that it’s not true, it’s inappropriate and so on. If they make another comment, you can say nothing, or acknowledge what they’ve said but repeat that you don’t like it. Then change the subject or excuse yourself and walk away.
Instead of reacting immediately to a criticism, ask yourself if there could be any truth in it. If the criticism is unfair and invalid, say so. Or say nothing and let it go. Most likely their mind is already made up and nothing you say will change it. There are ways get someone to stop talking without being rude; to close a conversation kindly. Listen closely so that you can be ready to jump in and take the subject in a different direction.
If you want to end a friendship, aim to do it kindly and gracefully with as little distress and as few hurt feelings as possible. Let it fade. Rather than abruptly stop calling, texting or emailing, slowly let contact diminish. If you do tell them why you are ending the friendship, don’t be unkind about it. Just explain that you’ve been hurt, disappointed, let down or whatever by your friendship and you’re calling it a day.