Simple Steps to Becoming Kinder
Some say that kindness is its own greatest reward. A study by Oxford demonstrated that being kind really did make people happier (if only by a negligible amount). Kindness is a gift, but the thing about gifts is that they’re just that: gifts come naturally to the gifted, but what about everyone else?
Being kind is just more difficult for some people than others. Unfortunately for those who struggle with it, kindness really is one of those skills that you need if you want to have any hope of maintaining any of your relationships. Unless you plan on living your life as a hermit in a solitary location, you’re going to need to learn how to play nice with others. Luckily, though, there are ways to make positive changes to your attitude and become a kinder person.
Don’t Feed Your Negative Reactions
We can’t help the way we react to certain things. That’s why they’re called reactions! A lifetime of learned biases means that stimuli will affect us automatically and unconsciously. Some of those reactions may not be so kind.
The first step to being kinder is to acknowledge negative reactions to other people and stop yourself from fueling those fires once you’ve identified them. We live in a society that is, systematically, racist, sexist, homophobic, and classist. Being raised in that kind of system means that we have biases ingrained into our unconsciousness, even if, consciously, we don’t agree with those thoughts. To be kinder, we must relearn much of what we were raised to understand.
If you find yourself blaming whole groups of people for ills you face—let’s say, for example, you hear that your taxes are going to be raised, and your gut reaction is to blame poor people for not contributing more—acknowledge those feelings and then immediately squash them. You can make the choice not to use others as scapegoats, and you can stop your negative biases from growing into full-blown prejudices.
True kindness is selfless. This doesn’t mean that you can’t feel good about being kind—in fact, that should be one of your main motivators—but rather that when you perform an act of kindness, you should do so without expecting anything out of others in return.
Kindness in the wrong hands can be used to manipulate and control other people. If you do something kind for someone else because you believe doing so will make them give you something you want, you’ve already failed.
Use Basic Manners
“Please,” “thank you,” “you’re welcome,” and “I’m sorry” exist for a reason. The basic manners we learn as children are vital for navigating through social interactions and should not be underestimated. These phrases are universally acknowledged to convey basic respect, and they don’t take any effort to say.
These basic courteous phrases should be second nature to you. You should be saying them without even thinking about it. If you’re not there yet, practice with yourself; thank yourself when you pour yourself a glass of what, apologize to yourself if you stub your toe, say you’re welcome to yourself after checking off an item on your to-do list. Eventually these phrases will become habit.
Let Go of Grudges
If you tend to hold a grudge, take comfort in knowing that at least you’re not alone. Many people hold grudges that stay with them for their entire lives. Grudges can feel good because they frame the grudge-holder as the victim, deserving of recompense. This perpetual victimhood, however, will do nothing except hold you back.
People make mistakes all the time. You know you do as well. It’s almost impossible to be kind to someone with whom you hold a grudge, so it’s far easier to learn how forgive and forget. This isn’t to say that you can’t be upset when someone wrongs you, but rather that you need to learn how to move past it and stop resentment from building up.
Avoid Unnecessary Conflict
There’s a fine line at times between being kind and being a doormat. You shouldn’t be afraid to have boundaries and expect others to respect them. But what if you’re not the only person who struggles with displaying kindness? Some people just aren’t nice, and it’s difficult to maintain kindness with someone who won’t respect you in return.
Sometimes, resolving situations kindly is simply not possible. At those times, the best answer may just be to remove yourself from the situation. You know the saying, “if you don’t have anything nice to say, don’t say anything at all”? Yeah, well, the same goes for actions. If you really feel like you are unable to interact kindly with someone else, just leave. There are better things to spend your time and energy on that someone who will never see eye-to-eye with you.
Be Kind to Yourself First
In the wise words of RuPaul, if you can’t love yourself, how in the hell are you going to love somebody else? To be kind to others, you must first treat yourself with kindness.
All the steps listed here you must first practice on yourself. Don’t give in to internalized misogyny, racism, homophobia, or classism. Do nice things for yourself just for the sake of doing them, regardless of whether you’ve done anything that you think is worthy of reward. Thank yourself for the things you do correctly and apologize to yourself for your failures—and then let them go. Don’t dwell on past errors; when you make a mistake, think of it only as a guide to what you can do better in the future.
It may seem hard, but there is a well of kindness in all of us. Learning how to access and use it will make you not only a happier person, but one that others want to be around.