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To be Kind or not to be Kind

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Lesley McCall

Winter 2016

To be Kind or not to be Kind, that is the question

In a world where we can do anything, why not be kind?

Why do some people struggle so much to be kind? To be generous? To give praise where it is deserved? To share and support each other? Why, when given the choice, do some people chose to be unkind?

Perhaps they simply haven’t grown up yet? Children can be very unkind to each other – bullying and ganging up in the playground. Even teenagers use social networks to ostracise and criticise each other – even to the tragic extent of suicide. Why? Why? Obviously, we should outgrow this, but we have all met people who haven’t – those colleagues who pollute the work place with nastiness, game playing and competitiveness.

If we look at evolution, where does kindness or unkindness develop? Homo sapiens survived when the gentler Neanderthals didn’t because they had an aggressive streak. However, we lasted this long because we learned to co-operate as well, to balance the two. Look at the evidence of how they hunted mammoths – they formed a group and chased them off a cliff, then shared the fur and meat with the rest of the tribe. Aggression and kindness.

Unkind people are often unhappy and troubled. If we assume that all behaviour has a purpose, then why are people unkind? I often tell my clients that bad behaviour is not to make the other person unhappy, but to make themselves feel better. Inside, an unkind person can feel insecure, unappreciated, unlucky compared to other people. So, they make everyone else miserable to make themselves feel more important, more confidant, more normal.

On the other hand, kindness gives the giver and receiver a good feeling, so why isn’t there more kindness in the world? Haven’t we evolved further than that? If we want to see how the world views kindness, we can get an idea from watching reality shows. We can see the crowd mentality when the viewers gang up on a celebrity that annoys them – often a weak person who has an arrogant veneer. The situation with Katie Price the second time in I’m a Celebrity springs to mind. The ‘mob’ voted her to do the trials time after time – it became spiteful and vindictive. On the other hand, unkind people never seem to win – they are kept in a while for entertainment value but in Big Brother/I’m a celebrity, etc., time after time, it’s the nice person that wins, the person who co-operates and supports the rest.

Ruthlessness is admired to an extent but kind people are who we want to be around. Once again we are talking ‘herd’ mentality. Who would you rather be around when a predator threatens? The people who cluster with each other to protect and defend everyone, or the loner who points to you and says “they’re tasty!”.

So why are people unkind and how to deal with them?

To begin with, we must understand why people are unkind. If we can understand what is behind it, then it helps us not to take it personally. I am constantly telling my clients that nasty behaviour is more about the person who is nasty than the victim. We tend to mind read and assume that they have done something wrong, but it is never their issue – happy people don’t tend to be cruel.

Unkindness and spite is mostly prompted by negative feelings such as jealousy, fear, envy or bitterness. I remember trying to explain to a beautiful, very intelligent teenager that the group of plain, rather stupid girls who were bullying her were probably jealous – she found this a revelation as she had assumed she had upset them with something she had said or done – instead of just who she was. Many adults are the same – believing that unkindness is somehow their fault – they provoked it.

So instead, think to yourself ‘What’s that all about? Why do they feel so bad about themselves that that they have to make other people feel bad too? What emotions could be behind it? What have you got that they might be jealous of? Where have you succeeded where they failed?’. It might not be just material things, such as money or possessions, that they are jealous of, it could simply be that you are happy and they are not. Once you understand what is behind their behaviour, you can understand why it is about them not you.

Types of unkindness and how to deal with it.

I’m OK /You’re not OK

This is the person who is always right. ALWAYS! Their opinions are the only sensible opinions and if you challenge them they can be very cruel. These people are vulnerable.

They are hiding a lack of confidence beneath a veneer of superiority. The reason they demoralise other people is that if everyone else is less than them, then maybe, finally, they might like themselves. They are like the dog who barks to hide uncertainty and fear. These people rarely seek help, that would be admitting they are vulnerable. Once you know this, it might be easier to feel sympathy, rather than frustration and anger. The best response is not to argue or challenge them but to be calm and firm. You are entitled to your opinions.

I’m not OK/You’re OK

This is the classic passive/aggressive person. If manipulation is unkind then they are very unkind. These people don’t like confrontation, but do like getting their own way. They tend to be inconsiderate of other people’s feelings in their determination to achieve their own goals. Again, challenging doesn’t work – they retreat even further into ‘victim’. However, there is a way of dealing with this without aggression. When they are playing the ‘poor little me’ card the ‘what I want doesn’t matter’ performance you simply question them sympathetically ‘Why doesn’t what you want matter? Why are your opinions less important than other peoples?’, etc.

I’m not OK/You’re not OK

This is the depressed person. Stephen Fry said the kindest thing you can do is to not avoid someone who is depressed. He’s right – if they reject you or avoid you, don’t take it personally – they are not being deliberately unkind – they are unhappy. So many people are uncomfortable around depressed people because they can be dismissive and self-centred, even downright unkind, but they don’t mean to be, so be patient.

I’m OK /You’re OK

These are kind people – they have no need to put people down, to be spiteful, etc. We should all aspire to this. If the world was full of these people, it would be a much nicer place and an easier place to live in. 

So – be kind

Respond to unkindness with sympathy and understand that the unkind person is unhappy. This is the way to ensure that the unkindness won’t touch you or hurt you. Understanding creates a wall around you that spite can’t touch.

If you stand facing a wave it will crash against you and knock you flat, if you lie down it will wash over you and not hurt. Let other people’s unkindness wash over you, let it be their problem not yours.

If mankind survives, it will be because we learned to be kinder, more co-operative, to share what we have with everyone – at least that’s what I believe, what I hope for – a kinder world.

So, when people are unkind to you, rather than being upset, consider doing a random act of kindness for them – you might be surprised at the result.