Being kind is all the rage these days. From paying it forward to random acts of kindness, the zeitgeist recognizes the importance of treating strangers with courtesy, generosity and respect. And that’s a good thing.
But being kind to strangers is easy, especially when we view them through a rose-colored lens. From a distance, the person in the car behind us at the fast food drive-thru can be a struggling single mom, a wounded war vet or anyone else we want them to be. When we pay for their meal, we feel like we’re helping someone who deserves our kindness.
Being kind is much more challenging when we know (or think we know) the person doesn’t deserve our kindness. For example, it can be difficult to be kind to:
- Overbearing coworkers
- Demanding/demeaning bosses
- Annoying family members
- Rude drivers
- Homeless people
… and anyone else we believe to be unfair, unjust or undeserving.
How to be kind when being kind is a struggle
People of faith don’t get to choose the people who deserve our kindness. In Colossians 3:12, Paul says:
As God’s chosen ones, holy and beloved, clothe yourselves with compassion, kindness, humility, meekness, and patience. Bear with one another …
Combine that passage with Jesus’s directive to love our enemies and you have a perfect spiritual storm, a scenario in which followers of Jesus are tasked with being kind to everyone — even (or maybe especially) the people who we think don’t deserve our kindness.
Here’s how we do it:
- Practice empathy. There’s a lot to be said for putting yourself in the other person’s shoes. Believe it or not, mean people are usually mean for a reason. Maybe he had a bad day at work. Or maybe her spouse is sick. Or maybe he lost his job last week. Rather than responding to unkindness with unkindness, try to empathize with the person’s situation and recognize that they may be acting badly because they are hurting.
- Be honest about your motives. When you don’t feel like being kind to someone, it’s important to examine your motives. In many (if not most) cases, our unwillingness to be kind is because we are feeling hurt, insecure, jealous or angry. By understanding your own feelings and unpacking your baggage, it’s easier to be kind to the people God places in your path. Why? Because it opens your eyes to the fact that sometimes the other person isn’t the problem. You are.
- Embrace grace. Kindness is the flip side of grace. Whether you want to admit it or not, no one is 100% nice or 100% nasty. We all have good days and bad days, and even the meanest people on earth do some good things. At the end of the day, none of us deserves kindness. Grace stops us from being judgmental and paves the way for being kind to everyone we meet.
In eastern religions, kindness is connected to karma — the idea that the kindness you give to other people will ultimately come back to you.
Christianity isn’t nearly as generous. For followers of Jesus, there are no rewards for kindness because kindness is the reward. By being kind to others, we make the world a better place as we grow spiritually and move one step closer to becoming the people we were created to be.