UPDATED: JANUARY 2, 2021
The world is filled with jerks. They’re unavoidable. So, the question isn’t whether or not you’ll encounter abrasive people — because you will. It’s how you’ll react to the jerks that cross your path.
You could fight fire with fire or look for ways to get even. But the best revenge is to kill them with kindness.
The science of kindness
The benefits of kindness go beyond the warm, fuzzy feeling you get when you do a good deed. Researchers are starting to gain a better understanding of positivity and kindness, and how they affect our physical and mental well-being.
For example, a study by researchers at Arizona State and the Stony Brook University Medical Center found that people who express kindness through volunteering have a 24% lower risk of an early death — which is about the same as six or more daily servings of fruit and vegetables.
Another recent study showed that 80% of Americans experienced a major loss in 2020: a mental health struggle, a job loss, a serious illness, or the death of a family member or close friend. But that same study found that about a quarter of Americans say that having someone acknowledge their struggles or validate their feelings is extremely helpful.
And that’s an important point. When people act like jerks, it’s often because they’re going through a personal struggle. By responding to them with kindness, empathy and understanding, you can neutralize their negativity and provide them with hope and encouragement.
READ: Get ahead by being nice
5 Ways to Kill Them with Kindness
The concept of responding to jerks with kindness isn’t new. It’s been around for thousands of years. In the book of Proverbs, it says:
If your enemies are hungry, give them bread to eat;
and if they are thirsty, give them water to drink;
for you will heap coals of fire on their heads,
and the Lord will reward you.
Coals of fire on their heads? That’s pretty medieval stuff. But the principle is solid. By making the choice to kill them with kindness, you force the jerks of the world to confront their own behavior as you model a saner and more spiritually grounded way of being.
In the gospels, Jesus’ advice to “love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you” essentially says the same thing. Don’t meet anger with anger. Instead, look for ways to bless the jerks in your life.
#1: Speak generously.
Words are powerful things. Proverbs also says the tongue holds the power of life and death. Mean or angry words tear people down; kind and generous words lift people up. When you speak generously to jerks, you speak life to them, to the world and even to yourself.
#2: Act graciously.
Grace is giving someone something they don’t deserve — and there’s no better time to practice it than when someone is wronging you. Whether it’s giving a jerk your parking space or cleaning up the neighbor’s dog poop, kind acts release grace into the world. And God knows the world needs more of that.
#3: Meet a need.
In some cases, people do mean things because they have an urgent need in their lives. For example, maybe the coworker who tries to take credit for your success needs a workplace victory because their job is in jeopardy. A tentative job situation doesn’t excuse bad behavior, but it explains it. By looking for ways to meet the other person’s need, you create an opportunity to help meet a need and make a new friend.
#4: Be a good listener.
Sometimes people act badly because they desperately want someone to listen to them — it’s frustrating when you feel like your voice isn’t be heard. Rather than arguing with difficult people, try to be a good listener. It’s not easy, but you might be surprised by the things you learn about the person as well as yourself.
A smile can be disarming. When you’re confronted by a jerk, flash a big smile before you say or do anything. Often, a smile can change the tone of the conversation and lay the groundwork for a more productive and civil interaction with people who are caught up in their own little worlds.
When you kill them with kindness, you have the element of surprise on your side. Mean, irritating people expect you to respond to their actions with anger and bitterness because that’s how they would respond to you.
When you treat jerks with kindness and generosity, it becomes increasingly difficult for them to continue their mean streak. It’s a little victory, but that’s how we change the world. One little victory at a time.