Being kind is a vital way of bringing meaning to our own lives as well as the lives of others. Being kind allows us to communicate better, be more compassionate, and also to be a positive force in people’s lives. Kindness has its true source deep within you, and while some people are innately kind, it’s something that everyone can cultivate by choice.
Developing a Kinder Perspective
- Care for others genuinely. At its most basic, kindness is about caring genuinely for others around you, wanting the best for them, and recognizing in them the same wants, needs, aspirations, and even fears that you have too. Kindness is warm, resilient, patient, trusting, loyal, and grateful. Piero Ferrucci sees kindness as being about “making less effort” because it frees us from getting knotted up in negative attitudes and feelings such as resentment, jealousy, suspicion, and manipulation. Ultimately, kindness is deep caring for all beings.
- Practice kindness and generosity toward others. Being out of practice, being shy, or not knowing how to reach out to others can only be overcome in the doing, by continually trying until it becomes a natural impulse to be kind and giving to others.
- Ask for nothing in return. The greatest kindness expects nothing, comes with no strings attached, and places no conditions on anything done or said.
- Don’t be kind for the sake of getting what you want. Beware of deluded kindness. Kindness is not about “self-interested politeness, calculated generosity, superficial etiquette”. Simply being nice to other people because you believe that this will manipulate them into giving you what you want in life, or as a means of controlling them, is not kindness. Nor is kindness about pretending to care for someone all the while repressing anger or contempt; hiding our rage or frustration behind false pleasantries is not kindness.
- Finally, being a people pleaser is not kindness; that’s simply behavior designed to give in and not rock the boat because you’re afraid that taking a step forward will sink the ship.
- Be kind to yourself. Many people make the error of trying to be kind to others while at the same time not focusing on being kind to themselves. Some of this can stem from not liking aspects of yourself, but more often than not, it’s sourced in the inability to know yourself better. And unfortunately, when you don’t feel rock solid within yourself, your kindness to others risks falling into the deluded types of kindness described in the previous step. Or, it can lead to burn-out and disillusionment because you’ve put everyone else first.
- Self-knowledge allows you to see what causes you pain and conflict, and enables you to embrace your contradictions and inconsistencies. It allows the space to work on things about yourself that you’re not happy with. In turn, self-knowledge helps to prevent you from projecting your negative aspects onto other people, thereby empowering you to treat other people with love and kindness..
- Take time to become more self-aware and use this learning to be kinder to both yourself (remembering that we all have weaknesses) and to others. In this way, your inner angst is being dealt with rather than fueling your need to project the hurt and pain.
- Avoid viewing time taken to become more aware of your own needs and limits as an act of selfishness; far from it, it is a vital pre-condition to being able to reach out to other people with great strength and awareness.
- Ask yourself what you think it means to be kinder to yourself. For many people, being kinder to themselves includes monitoring the chatter in your thoughts and stopping your negative thinking.
- Learn kindness from others. Think about the truly kind people in your life and how they make you feel. Do you carry their warm glow around in your heart every time you think of them? It is likely that you do because kindness lingers, warming you even when the hardest challenges face you. When other people find a way to love you for who you are, it’s impossible to forget such trust and confirmation of worthiness, and their kindness lives on forever.
- Remember how other people’s kindness “makes your day”. What is it about their kindness that makes you feel special and cherished? Are there things that they do that you can replicate from your own heart?
- Cultivate kindness for the good of your own health. Improved psychological health and happiness comes from thinking more positively, and kindness is a positive mental state. While kindness is about giving and being open to others, giving kindness returns a sense of well-being and connection to us that improves our own mental state and health.
- Although simple, the very ability to be kind is in itself a powerful and consistent reward, a self-esteem booster.
- Make a habit of focusing on kindness. Leo Babauta says that kindness is a habit and is one that everyone can cultivate. He suggests focusing on kindness every day for a month. At the end of this directed focus, you’ll be aware of profound changes in your life, you’ll feel better about yourself as a person, and you’ll find that people react to you differently, including treating you better. As he says, in the long run, being kind is karma in practice. Suggestions to help cultivate your kindness include:
- Do one kind thing for someone every day. Make a conscious decision at the beginning of the day what that kind act will be and make time to do it during the day.
- Be kind, friendly, and compassionate when you interact with someone, and even more so where that person normally makes you angry, stressed, or bothered. Use kindness as your strength.
- Build up your small acts of kindness into larger acts of compassion. Volunteering for those in need and taking the initiative to relieve suffering are bigger acts of compassion.
- Meditate to help spread kindness. Read Practice Loving Kindness Meditation (Metta) for more details.
- Be kind to everyone, not just people “in need”. Expand your circle of kindness. It can be very easy to be kind when we’re unconsciously doing what Stephanie Dowrick terms “patronizing kindness”. This refers to kindness given to those people we feel are truly in need (the sick, the poor, the vulnerable, and those who align with our own ideals). Being kind to people close to us, emotionally (like family or friends) or in other ways (from the same country, of the same color, gender etc.), is also easier than being kind to those the philosopher Hegel called “the other”. It can be more difficult to be kind to people we may consider our equals, but it will be worth it.
- The trouble with restricting our kindness to “convenient” cases is that we fail to recognize that we need to be kind to everyone, no matter who they are, their level of wealth or fortune, their values and beliefs, their behavior and attitudes, their place of origin, their likeness to ourselves, etc.
- By choosing to be kind only to those we feel are deserving of kindness, we are unleashing our own biases and judgment, and only practicing conditional kindness. Natural kindness encompasses all beings and while the challenges you’ll face when trying to put this broader notion of kindness into practice will sometimes be trying, you’ll never stop learning about the depths of your ability to be truly kind.
- If you’re neglecting being kind to someone else just because you think they can cope without your support or understanding, then you’re practicing selective kindness.
- Minimize judgment. If you really want to be kind, then you have to kick your judgment to the curb. Instead of spending your time being critical of other people, work on being positive and compassionate. If you tend to think poorly of others, wish other people could step up their game, or feel like the people around you are needy or clueless, then you’ll never learn true kindness. Stop judging people and realize that you’ll never fully understand where they’re coming from unless you walk a day in their shoes. Focus on wanting to help others instead of judging them for not being better than they are.
- If you’re judgmental, prone to gossip, or just always bad-mouthing the people around you, you’ll never be able to move past your reservations to be kind.
- Being kind means giving people the benefit of the doubt instead of expecting perfection.
Developing Kind Qualities
- Be compassionate toward others. It’s important to take in the message, “Be kind, for everyone you meet is fighting a hard battle”. Attributed to Plato, this saying is a recognition that everyone is undergoing some challenge or other in their lives and that sometimes, it’s all too easy for us to lose sight of that when embroiled in our own problems or anger against them. Before committing an action that might impact another person negatively, ask yourself a simple question: “Is this kind?”. If you cannot answer this in the affirmative, this is a reminder to change your action and approach immediately.
- Even where you’re feeling at your very worst, remember that other people are also feeling uncertainty, pain, hardship, sadness, disappointment, and loss. In no way does this belittle your own feelings but it does allow you to realize that people often react from their hurt and pain rather than from their whole self, and kindness is the key to seeing past the raging emotions and connecting with the real person inside.
- Don’t expect perfection. If you have a tendency toward perfectionism, competitiveness, or a driven sense of urgency, self-kindness can often be a victim of your ambition and fast pace, as well as your fear of being seen to be lazy or selfish. Remember to slow down and to forgive yourself when things don’t work out as wished.
- Learn from your mistakes rather than beating yourself up over them, or comparing yourself to others. It is through self-compassionate responses that you can start to see other people’s needs in a compassionate light.
- Be present. The greatest gift of kindness to another person is to be in the moment in their presence, to be listening with care, and to be genuinely attentive to them. Schedule your day differently, and stop being known as the person who always rushes off. Being present means being available; you can only do this if you’re not rushing or squeezing in people and activities.
- Ease off the technical means of communicating with others. Impersonal and hurried technical communications like text and email have their place in life, but not as your only means of communicating. Take time to connect with people face-to-face, or via an uninterrupted phone call. Send a letter instead of an email and surprise someone with the kindness of your having taken time out of your day to put pen to paper.
- Be a good listener. The act of listening is easier said than done in our fast-paced world, where rushing and being busy are seen as virtues; where cutting someone off because you’re too busy, or you need to get somewhere in a hurry, is the norm. Making being busy into a habit is no excuse for unkindness, however. When talking to someone, learn to listen with your whole being and sincerely pay attention to them until they’re done revealing their thoughts and story.
- Truly listening to someone, making eye contact, avoiding all distractions, and giving a person the time of day is one of the greatest acts of kindness. Take the time to truly absorb what the person is saying before responding with a pre-made answer or interrupting. Show the person that you appreciate the unique situation he’s in and that you’re there to lend an ear.
- Being a good listener doesn’t mean being a great problem solver. Sometimes, the best thing you can do is just be there to listen, while acknowledging that you don’t know what the person should do.
- Be optimistic. Happiness, joy, and gratitude rest at the heart of kindness, allowing you to see the good in others and the world, enabling you to press through the challenges, despair, and cruelty you witness and experience, continuously restoring your sense of faith in humanity. Maintaining an optimistic attitude ensures that acts of kindness are committed with genuine joy and cheerfulness rather than with reluctance or out of a sense of duty or service. And keeping your sense of humor ensures that you don’t take yourself too seriously and take life’s contradictory and contrary moments with good faith.
- It’s not always easy to be optimistic, especially when you’ve had a crummy day. But with enough practice, anyone can cultivate optimism by focusing on the positive instead of the negative, thinking ahead to happy things in the future, and living a life that is filled with more joy than sadness. And it doesn’t cost a dollar to look on the brighter side of things, either.
- Being optimistic and staying positive will not only put you in more of a mindset to be kind, but it will also bring joy to those around you. If you spend much of your time complaining, then it will be more difficult to bring happiness to the people in your orbit.
- Read How to be happy, How to be funny, and How to be thankful for more information on how to cultivate optimism.
- Be friendly. People who are kind tend to also be friendly. This doesn’t mean they are the most outgoing people in the room, but that they make an effort to get to know new people and to make them feel at home. If there’s someone new at your school or workplace, you can try to talk to that person, explain how things work, and even invite him or her to social events. Even if you’re not outgoing, just smiling and making small talk with people can go a long way in making you friendlier, and this kindness will not go unnoticed.
- Friendly people are kind because they expect the best from people. They talk to new people and friends alike in an easygoing, reassuring way that makes them feel at home.
- If you’re naturally shy, you don’t have to change your personality completely. Just make a bit more of an effort to be nice to people by giving them your attention, asking them how they are, and showing an interest in them.
- Be polite. Although being polite is not an indication of kindness in itself, genuine politeness demonstrates your respect for those you’re interacting with. Being polite is the kind way of getting people’s attention and putting your point across. Some simple ways to do this include:
- Find ways to rephrase your requests or responses to others. For example, say “May I?” instead of “Can I?”; say “I’m surprised” instead of “That’s not fair”; say “Let me explain that another way” instead of saying “That’s not what I said”. Rephrasing your language speaks volumes.
- Have excellent manners. Hold doors open for people, avoid being overly vulgar in person, and don’t be overly familiar with new people.
- Make compliments and mean them.
- Read How to practice courtesy and kindness for more ideas.
- Be grateful. People who are truly kind are easily able to express gratitude. They don’t take anything for granted and always thank people for helping them out. They know how to say “thank you” and really mean it, they write thank-you cards, and they are comfortable with acknowledging when they have been helped. People who are grateful also thank people just because, for things like making their days brighter, instead of only thanking them for completing specific tasks. If you make a habit of being more grateful to the people around you, you’ll see that your capacity for kinds will increase.
- If you’re more observant of all the nice things other people do for you, then you’ll be more ready to do nice things for others. You’ll be more aware of how good the kindness of others makes you feel and will feel more inclined to spread the love.
- Love animals and the living world. Loving animals and caring for pets is kindness in action. Nothing compels you to care about beings of another species, especially in a day and age where the tools of human domination are so powerful. And yet, the very act of loving an animal and respecting the animal for its own value is an expression of deep kindness. As well, being kind to the world that sustains and nurtures us is sensible as well as kind, ensuring that we don’t poison the very elements that assure us a healthy life.
- Adopt or foster a pet. Your kindness will be rewarded by letting another being into your life who will bring you joy and love.
- Offer to pet-sit for a friend who is going away. Give your friend the reassurance that someone loving and caring will be tending to her pet while she’s away.
- Respect the species you’re caring for. Humans don’t “own” animals; rather, we stand in a relationship of being responsible for their well-being and care.
- Take time to restore parts of your local environment with the local community. Go for walks in nature with family, friends, alone, and commune with the world that you’re a part of. Share your love for nature with others, to help reawaken their sense of connection with nature.
- Share. People who are kind are happy to share with others. You can share your favorite sweater, half of your delicious enchilada, or even words of career advice to someone younger than you. The important thing is that you’re sharing something that you actually care about, instead of giving away something you don’t really need. It’s much more meaningful to let your friend borrow your favorite sweater than to give her an old hand-me-down you never wear. Sharing with people will make you more generous and thus, more inclined towards kindness.
- Keep an eye out for people who would really benefit from some of the things you have. They may not always ask for them, but you can offer them readily before they admit that they need something from you.
- Smile more. Smiling is a simple act of kindness that can go a long way. Make a habit of smiling at strangers, or at your friends or acquaintances. Though you don’t have to walk around with a smile plastered on your face, smiling at people will make them smile back, and will bring even a modicum of joy to their days. What’s more, smiling can actually trick your mind into feeling happier than it previously was. Everybody wins when you smile, and your capacity for kindness will grow in the process.
- Smiling at people will also make them more comfortable and will make you look more approachable, which is another way of being kind. Being welcoming to others, and even giving strangers the benefit of the doubt by smiling at them, is another way of being kind.
- Take an interest in people. People who are truly kind are genuinely interested in other people. They aren’t kind to them just because they want to get what they want or because they are fishing for a favor. They do it because they genuinely care about how people are doing and want those around them to be happy and healthy. To be more kind, work on developing an interest in other people and show them that you care by being attentive, asking questions, and paying attention to them. Here are some ways to take an interest in people:
- Ask people how they are and mean it.
- Ask people about their hobbies, interests, and families.
- If someone you cared about had a big life event, ask that person how it went.
- If someone you know has a big exam or interview coming up, wish him or her luck.
- When you talk to people, make sure they are doing at least about half of the talking. Don’t dominate a conversation and focus more on the other person than yourself.
- Make eye contact and put away your cell phone when you talk to people. Show that they are your first priority.
- Call up a friend just because. You don’t always need a reason to call up a good friend. Make a goal of calling one friend per week, or even two friends per week, just to catch up and see how that person is doing. Don’t call to make plans or to ask that person something specific; call just because you miss your friend and have been thinking about him or her. Getting in touch with your friends out of the blue will make them feel cared for and will make you feel good; this shows kindness and thoughtfulness.
- If you’re really short on time, you can start by making a habit of calling up your friends on their birthdays. Don’t be lazy and send a text message or even a Facebook post, but give your friend a phone call from the heart.
- Donate your things. Another way to be kind is to donate some of your belongings to charity. Instead of throwing out your old things or selling them for 50 cents at a garage sale, donate the things you don’t need to a good cause. If you have clothes, books, or other household items that are in good condition, then making a habit of donating these things to charity instead of storing them up or tossing them is a great way to spread your kindness to others.
- If you have some clothes or books that someone you know would want, then don’t be shy about donating those items to that person. This is another way of being kind.
- Do a random act of kindness. “Carry out a random act of kindness, with no expectation of reward, safe in the knowledge that one day someone might do the same for you.” These are the words once said by Princess Diana. The practice of random acts of kindness is alive and well as a conscious effort to spread more kindness; there are even groups that have established themselves to perform this essential civic duty! Here are some great random acts of kindness you can do:
- Shovel a neighbor’s driveway as well as your own.
- Wash a friend’s car.
- Put money into an expired meter.
- Help someone carry a heavy bag.
- Leave a gift on someone’s doorstep.
- For more details on practicing random acts of kindness, read How to practice random acts of kindness.
- Transform your life through kindness. Changing how you live and how you view the world might seem daunting. But take a note of Aldous Huxley’s prescription for transforming your life: “People often ask me what is the most effective technique for transforming their life. It is a little embarrassing that after years and years of research and experimentation, I have to say that the best answer is–just be a little kinder.” Take Huxley’s many years of research to heart and allow kindness to transform your life, to transcend all feelings and actions of aggression, hate, despising, anger, fear, and self-deprecation, and to restore strength worn away by despair.
- Through being kind, you take a stand by affirming that caring for others, for our environment, for yourself is the right way to live life. It isn’t about immediate effectiveness; kindness is a lifestyle choice, a constant hum and rhythm accompanying every single thing that you think and do.
- Through being kind, you let go of the burden of worrying that others have more than you, are less or more deserving than you, or are in a position of superiority or inferiority to you. Instead, kindness assumes everyone is worthy, you included.
- Through being kind, you recognize that we are all in this together. When you harm another person, you also harm yourself. What you do to support others also supports you.
- How do I be kind when I am upset, sad, or grumpy?
Recognize your emotional state and find ways to calm yourself: deep breaths, taking some alone time, et cetera. Focus entirely on the other person. If you’re too upset to handle it, say “I’m upset and I can’t be a good listener right now.” Give yourself patience and time, and don’t push things before you’re ready.
- How can I be kind to others when I feel empty or don’t care about others?
If you feel this way, you need to start by being kind to yourself first. You’re projecting what you feel deep inside about yourself — empty and without self care. Spend some time caring for your own self and needs first, perhaps getting counseling for unresolved issues that are holding you back from being your best self. When you learn to love yourself and take good care of you, then you’ll find it much easier to be kind to others.
- How do you be nice to people when they are always attacking you, physically or emotionally?
Rise above and do your best to remove those people from your life. Dealing with not nice people isn’t always fun or fair, but you will thank yourself for staying true to your kind self.
- How do I remain calm when I feel like someone’s using me?
If you feel like someone is using you, tell them your feelings directly. If they are your friend, they will not be mad at you for sharing your opinion. If you’re having trouble staying calm around this person, you may want to take a break from spending time with them.
- Do I have to be kind even when some people never appreciate my kindness?
Being kind for the sake of being kind doesn’t require appreciation in return. If you place a condition on kindness, then it’s not really being kind. There are many reasons why people aren’t instantly or obviously appreciative, including astonishment, exhaustion, slowness to respond, obtuseness, quiet appreciation, etc. Some people are rude but that just means more kindness is needed. It may also help you to understand that it’s more about your karma, not theirs, without being a doormat, of course.
- Am I ever too old to make this change?
No, you’re never too old. Everyone of every age can benefit from being kinder. If you’ve been mean your whole life, it might take people some time to adjust to your change of heart, but it’s worth it!
- Why do we need to learn kindness from others?
It’s not so much about learning kindness as about unlearning all the defensiveness that socializing teaches us. We feel safer being defensive and self/family protective, and this is part of our ancient ancestral understandings that enhance survival. Kindness often forces us to put ourselves in other people’s shoes, to understand where they’re coming from even if we don’t usually think like them. It also requires a spirit of generosity and care for strangers, which can sometimes be difficult when we worry about our own/own family’s needs. Yet, kindness begets kindness, so it is often through seeing others’ kindness that we learn it has beneficial, supportive and caring outcomes that each of us aspires to in the greater scheme of life.
Director Richard Taylor BS, CART
Certified Anger Resolution Therapist
Atlanta Anger Management
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