Countering with kindness

hands of different colours making an outline of a heart
image: iStock / Getty

A lady named Maureen once told me of the time when she was driving towards the Forth Road Bridge in Scotland.

It’s a toll bridge and a mile or two from the toll plaza she pulled out in front of another driver. It was an accident. We’ve all done it. A momentary lapse in concentration, a blind spot on the mirror.

Fortunately there was no collision, but the other driver was furious. He peeped his horn for what seemed like an hour. He then drew up alongside her. His face was red with rage. He mouthed some expletives before flashing her a middle-finger gesture and speeding off.

Maureen was shaken. She felt very upset. But she took a few deep breaths and proceeded towards the toll.

As it happened, when she arrived at the toll booth, the angry man was now behind her. It must have happened as some drivers shuffle from one line to the next to try to find the fastest queue. Evidently that strategy hadn’t worked out so well for him.

Maureen had always believed that kindness can solve so many of our problems in life, so she paid his toll.

As she pulled away, her shoulders eased, her smile returned, and she felt at ease, completely opposite from just a few moments earlier.

Soon, the driver pulled up alongside her again, but this time mouthing something different.

With a much-softened face, he said “THANK YOU” and gently tapped his hand on his heart. Smiling, he then nodded his head a few times towards her and drove off.

Maureen felt stunned, yet satisfied that once again in the laboratory of her own life, kindness had diffused a negative situation. She’s a guidance counsellor in a high school. She has a soft voice and kind eyes. I think of some of the lucky kids who are sent to her, receiving an education in the importance of kindness.

It’s so easy to counter anger with anger, aggression with aggression. Like vs like is how it is for most people. It’s how so many situations escalate. Countering with kindness seems counterintuitive, but it works much of the time.

Yes, using kindness means you don’t get to say your piece, you don’t get to list all the person’s faults or point out the wrongness of what they have said or done. But it can prevent a situation from escalating. It takes two to tango, as they say.

It’s not easy. It definitely takes practice. But it’s worth it.

It doesn’t always have to be an act of kindness. It can be with a few words. Hurt people hurt people, as they say. Taking a moment to acknowledge that a person’s behaviour might stem from some pain makes it a little easier to respond kindly.

A simple thing that can work quite well is even to lower your voice and speak more slowly. Our brains are wired to recognise that type of thing as non-threatening and signals the nervous system to relax, both yours and the other person’s.

I have often wondered about Maureen and the angry man. Who knows, without Maureen’s intervention he may have carried his anger with him through the rest of the evening. I’ve wondered if he might have taken it out on his wife, perhaps even shouted at his kids.

I don’t know and I can only wonder. Maybe.

But kindness changed his immediate future. If research into the ripple effect of kindness counts for anything, it is almost certain that the man would have spread some kindness himself. Kindness lifts us, it inspires us to see more in people, to be better friends, husbands, wives, neighbours, colleagues.

Kindness is powerful. It can create real and lasting change.

And it’s so simple.

So here’s my tip for the day. Be the source of the experience of kindness in someone’s life today.

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  1. Reg on April 14, 2022 at 1:43 pm

    Hi David. My wife tells me that I’m cynical. I can’t help but wonder if the male driver from Maureen’s story did learn something from the exchange….. Perhaps if he shouts and abuses other drivers in future; they too, shall offer some pecuniary reward in order to placate him?
    Btw; I’m also paranoid 🙂

  2. Cathy near Banknock scotland on April 14, 2022 at 3:53 pm

    Thankyou again David for your words of encouragement to us all. I myself approached a woman with confronting anger after she’s shunted my new car from behind. Her remorseful reaction melted my heart immediately along with her situation of proving to a social worker that she was capable of continuing to care for her handicapped son who were both in her car. I found myself reassuring her all would be well, which it was as my car was fine. That woman opened my heart that day and I am so so grateful. Again Thankyou David for being you!! X

  3. Suzanne on April 15, 2022 at 6:31 am

    I call these situations “ the cat we kick” I believe in trying to look behind the situation for a minute, maybe the chap had just had a crap day at work and unfortunately Maureen was his cat… but because of her act of kindness he definitely would have gone home with a different attitude we hope. And if his reaction after Maureen kindest was still aggressive I would have thrown off the bridge( it’s a joke)

  4. Catherine Reid on April 15, 2022 at 9:39 am

    Thanks David. Sometimes Kindness is all it takes in a world consumed by Anger and competition!

  5. Jan Richman on April 15, 2022 at 2:10 pm

    Thank you. A beautiful post and good reminder of how we can create a ripple of positive change.

  6. Keri Part on April 15, 2022 at 7:10 pm

    This reminds me of last son 31 and daughter 30 have fallen out badly. I got involve to try and hekp but neither were budging. So I told them both I had tyo taker a step back as the situation was upsetting me so. To this I received a rampage of abuse groom my daughter (in a text) insinuating that were it my son that was feeling so hurt I would-ve treated him differently and tried to sort it out. I was incensed by her out burst but decided not to reply ther. After a meditation later thay day on the ho pono pono prayer, i just felt huge lover for her. I sent her a messaged of so much love and received a loving one back.. plus an apology. You can’t have a war on your own. Xx

  7. Lisa Kaiser on April 20, 2022 at 3:52 pm

    What a great story and a gentle reminder for us all. We too have a choice in our own behavior, no one MAKES us mad, as we so often shift the reasoning to someone else. It is often our own spontaneous choice. I think it is such great advice to take a moment to slow down, talk softer and it brings the blood pressure down as well. I for one will keep this story in my mind and remember Maureen.

  8. Rachel Dolan on April 21, 2022 at 9:09 pm

    Thank you for this wonderful example of always being true to who you are in spite of what you may be facing. Beautiful!

  9. Thureya on April 22, 2022 at 8:29 am

    Loved this story!!! Has definitely inspired me to be more kind

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