Kindness requires two virtues: awareness and choice. Most of us react to events and people with little awareness about what we are saying or doing. We need to pause to become aware of what is going on in ourselves, and then choose to be kind.
5 ways to be kind
1. Judge others less
We tend to judge others based on their actions. Yet we judge ourselves based on our intentions. Perhaps we should be more consistent and judge others based on their intentions too. These are usually good, even if the execution is imperfect.
Mahatma Gandhi said we shouldn’t judge another person until we have walked a mile in his moccasins. This is good advice. We usually jump to conclusions and judgment after seeing the other person take just one step. We do not consider all the previous steps that drove him to speak or act in a certain way.
When people judge us critically, we get defensive and tell ourselves that they just don’t understand. And we are right. In the same way, when we judge others critically, we too don’t understand them. If we could look straight into another person’s heart, most likely we would not be judging them, but weeping for them.
2. Ease another’s burden
The other reason others don’t need us to judge them critically is that they are probably already feeling bad about what they said or did. Instead of telling someone that they messed up, which they already know, let’s tell them an equally important truth.
Tell them that they are doing the best they know how under the circumstances. This will help lift the load of guilt from their shoulders. And when they feel lighter and better about themselves, it will be easier for them to behave better towards others too.
Everybody carries a burden in life that nobody else can see. We can add to a person’s burden by being harsh, or we can be kind and help to carry their burden for a while. Sometimes all it takes is an understanding smile from us, and the burden of guilt is lighted at one.
3. Seek to understand
To truly understand another person takes a lifetime. Just observing one or two actions on their part is certainly not enough for us to understand what drove them to do it. Yet we often judge isolated incidents, and hence easily misunderstand others.
We can understand better not by judging people, but by asking questions. Instead of thinking “She’s not a very good mother if she yells at her kids”, ask “How many weeks has this woman gone without sufficient sleep?” Instead of “There he goes, being selfish again”, we ask “Why is he so pre-occupied about this?”
We may never know the answers, but we can admit that there is a lot about the other person that we don’t know. By coming up with a few alternative answers to our own questions, we’ll start to realise that there are many reasons why a person behaves in a certain way.
4. Encourage others
No matter how confident and self-assured a person seems, she has some insecurity in her heart. Even the most successful man constantly asks himself if he did the right thing. At some point in all our lives, we run on empty or close to it. Encouragement from somebody else, even a complete stranger, could make the difference between giving up and taking one more step.
When I was in school, a friend told me “You are capable of doing anything you set your mind to”. At the time I didn’t make much of it. But through the next couple of decades, every time self-doubt set in, I remembered this friend’s words. This long ago echo gave me the confidence to keep going.
You may say something today that you don’t think is a big deal. Even the person you say it to may not appreciate it right now. Yet you never know how far that arrow of kindness will fly, and where it will land. The world has many critics and few encouragers. Be an encourager.
5. Be kind by just keeping quiet
Sometimes the kindest thing we can do is to bite our tongue, if that’s necessary to avoid saying something hurtful to another person. If we have tried to understand and just can’t, if we cannot suspend critical judgment, then let the harsh words remain in our head and die in us. There is no need to verbalise them.
Learning to shut up was definitely not easy for me, and most likely won’t be for you. When we keep your mouth shut, our brain will find something else to do. This usually takes the form of opening our eyes and ears. This increases the chances of our seeing or hearing something that we otherwise wouldn’t, that will help us to understand the situation and the person better.
Make a decision today that if you can’t say anything nice, then don’t say anything at all. Try it for one week, or even for just one day. See if you like the person in the mirror better at the end of the day.
Be kind to yourself
And if you try and fail at all of the above, remember to be kind to yourself too. Don’t judge yourself. Ease your own burden of guilt. Seek to understand what happened. Encourage yourself. And then try again. Your kindness may change someone’s world.
“A single act of kindness throws out roots in all directions, and the roots spring up and make new trees.” – Amelia Earhart