How to be kind

Kindness is about giving people something that would benefit them. That is not the same thing as giving them what they want.

Trying to be kind is easy enough, but actually being kind is more difficult. If you want to be kind to a person, there are several things you should understand first:

  1. That person’s circumstances.
  2. How they see their circumstances.
  3. The likely consequences that flow from your attempts to be kind.

Without a focus on these three things, our kindness may be futile or even counterproductive.

To put it another way:

  1. We cannot help people whose circumstances we don’t understand.
  2. We cannot engage well with people unless we understand how they see things.
  3. While we can never certainly predict the consequences of our actions, we can plan carefully and do better than just guess.

By way of example, let’s imagine a child with their pet:

A boy may think he’s being kind to a pet dog by taking it for a walk, but a dog with a thorn in its paw may not see it that way. The circumstances of the dog need to be understood.

Another child spots a cat hiding under a table and feels the cat would benefit from being hugged. While that may be, the cat does not see it that way. The cat suspects the child is trying to attack him and scratches the child. The perspective of the cat needed to have been understood.

Another child may feel that she is being kind by sharing her chocolates with her cat. This fails the “consequences” test, since chocolate is poisonous to cats.

Clearly, you can try to be kind without focusing on the three areas I mentioned. Maybe, people would respect you for just trying to be kind. Effective kindness, however, seems to require some discipline.

Explore possibilities, test your hypotheses and assess how well your attempts at kindness work out in practise.

This technique can be supplemented by deliberate thinking practise. Two tools that come to mind are OPV and C & S:

Above all, keep practising. Kindness, like playing the piano, is something we can all get better at.

Phil Bachmann

14 Feb 2019