Being kind is a way of living that keeps giving long after the kind thoughts, words, and actions have taken place. Kindness is a force without force, and it goes well beyond manners to the very heart of how people respect and treat one another. Being kind is a vital way of making our own lives, and the lives of others, meaningful. Being kind allows us to communicate better with others, to be more self-compassionate, and to be a positive force in other 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. Following are a few initial suggestions to help you further develop kindness in your life.
1. Understand what kindness is and is not.
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.
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. And lastly, being a people pleaser is not kindness; that’s simply behavior designed to give in and not rock the boat because you’re afraid of what might happen if you’re not compliant.
2. Be kind to yourself.
Many people make the error of trying to be kind to others while 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. Self-knowledge 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 negative chatter that involves putting yourself down and stopping your negative thinking.
If you have a tendency towards 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.
3. 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.
Be a good listener. Often said, yet 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.
Schedule your day differently, so that you’re not 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.
4. Be happy, joyful, and grateful.
These emotions 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.
5. Reflect on the kindness of other people.
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?
6. 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 connectedness to us that improve 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.
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.
7. Practice the kindness effect.
Stephanie Dowrick recommends that we practice what she calls the “kindness effect”. She says that this requires us to allow ourselves the freedom to be kind for the sake of other people and for ourselves. In reaching to others, she confirms that it’s impossible to be kind to others without this kindness also reflecting back on ourselves, increasing our connection with the world, and decreasing our personal problems.
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.
8. 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”. The trouble with curtailing it 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. Real 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.
9. “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.
Consider the adage “be cruel to be kind”. Think about why this saying is so popular. Do you think it is an appropriate way to view people’s situations? When you believe that someone truly needs to learn a lesson, often one involving standing on their own two feet, one of the greatest kindnesses that you can do for them is to withhold your judgment and to go the extra mile to do things for them that will enable them to make the changes or leaps of faith that they need to do, without actually trying to make that change for them. We’re all well aware that we cannot change another human being. But kindness allows us to enable things to change around them so that they can make the necessary changes for themselves. Which means that we don’t need to view our act as “cruel”; rather, it becomes an act of “enabling”.
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.
“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!
10. 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.
- Show kindness through loving 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.
11. Transform your life.
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 all beings are one. That what you do to harm another, harms yourself. And that what you do to help and boost another, helps and boosts yourself. Kindness gives dignity to all.
Be a Soldier of Humanity. Get involved – gain pride.