When someone isn’t kind to you

Man showing stop gesture with his hand out front. His face and body are blurred in the background and only the hand out in front is in focus.
image: iStock/Getty

I’ve written quite a lot about kindness over the years in my books and blogs. When we think of being kind, it’s usually in the context of things we can do for others.

It can be quite straightforward. We either respond to a person’s needs or we do something kind just as a treat.

But what do you do when someone is being unkind to you?

Do you still be kind? Do you make a commitment that kindness is your way and let it go? Or do you tell them where to go? 

Do you have a boundary that people can’t cross in how they treat you? 

Or do you conclude that it’s people’s general nature to look out for themselves and from then on be less helpful to others? In other words, has other people’s behaviour shaped you?

Or do you just smile and keep on being yourself?

These are fair questions.

The answer depends.

My go-to is that I like to remind myself that you never know what’s going on in a person’s life (or has gone on) that can influence how they behave. Sometimes you do know. I find this approach useful in most situations. 

Not all, but most.

Someone once said that if I always take this attitude then I’ll always be a pushover and people will always take advantage of me. 

What do you do?” I asked. 

I don’t take any shit!” was the response. “Zero tolerance!” 

Fair enough. In that moment, I found myself having compassion for this person. Often when people take this sort of stance it’s because they’ve been treated badly in the past. They’ve reached a point of pain and have decided that enough is enough. It’s a good thing that she decided that.

Both of our stances are valid. There’s no right or wrong. It just depends.

My way certainly isn’t always the answer. It invites compassion and it can soften your response to the person, reducing the changes of something escalating. But, true, it can result in you being treated the same way again. We all need some sort of boundaries.

Some people are unkind or selfish by nature. It’s just who, and how, they are. Some have always thought only about themselves. It’s so deeply ingrained that treating people unkindly is normalised. But sometimes, behaviour is deeply ingrained because of things that have happened to them. You just don’t know.

For some, the weight of their life experience can be too much. Eventually, anger or hurt just bursts out of them at all sorts of times like an inflated balloon that’s been held underwater and suddenly released.

Some people have so much shit happening in their lives that they can barely keep their heads above the water.

How do we know the difference? How do you know that someone’s behaviour is because they’re suffering, or have suffered, or because they’re just mean or selfish by nature? 

Most of the time you don’t know.

That’s what makes this a grey area for most of us.

So what do you do if you don’t know?

It depends. And it’s up to you.

There isn’t a right answer that’s right all of the time.

Sometimes, you’re the one who has a lot of shit happening in your life or have had a lot of shit happen. My friend, above, is one of those people. You’re justifiably in no mood to take any more. You might be able to find compassion for someone who is being mean or selfish some days, but on most other days that person can go f**k themselves, right?

This is what I mean when I say, “It depends.” Cut yourself some slack if someone’s behaviour bothers you.

I try to reach for compassion when I can, but I don’t beat myself up when I’m unable to. We’re all human. We all need to have our boundaries. There are times when it’s hard being kind. Sometimes hurt is louder than compassion.

Sometimes, the person who needs kindness is yourself. That’s my friend’s position. Zero tolerance is her way is exercising self-care. 

I choose not to have that person or that attitude in my space.” 

Matter of fact.

There are times when this is absolutely the right way to go. But it needn’t be all the time.

I recall a time in my life when people I was working with were taking advantage of my nature. And they were doing it intentionally, knowing what they were doing, that they were going to profit and leave me high and dry. They thought that, in my seeming innocence, they could effectively get away with it. Throw me a few bones at the end, a little pat on the head. ‘Good boy!’, was their general thinking on the matter.

I helped them the first few times even though I knew their intentions. They didn’t know I knew. They thought I was naïve. But I was instead practicing wilful kindness. I hoped my openness and kindness would be a light and cause them to be kind in return or increase their kindness to others. Kindness is contagious, after all.

It didn’t. Sometimes it does, but it didn’t on this occasion. I said no after that. And I just walked away.

I didn’t see them again.

I could have lamented about how two-faced such and such a person was and refused to help in the first place, but I refused to allow their unkindness to shape the sort of person I choose to be.

That’s the challenge in life.

To not let the behaviour of others break us.

Staying true to yourself takes strength. It can take courage.

The whole thing about being kind when others are not can be complex as it depends on you, how you feel, what you’ve been through, what you’re going through. And you really don’t know what’s gone on in a person’s life (unless they tell you).

I’ve written many times that kindness (and compassion) is almost always the right thing to do.

We just, at times, need to find that balance between kindness and compassion for others and kindness and compassion for ourselves. There’s a sweet spot to be found.

Just knowing it’s there will help you find it.

Just don’t let the behaviour of others change you. Staying true to yourself can be one of the most important things you ever do.

Posted in ,

14 Comments

  1. lafs on January 13, 2023 at 2:40 pm

    dI found this unhelpful. sorry if that doesn’t seem kind but I was looking for examples and how to respond

    • Mandy on January 13, 2023 at 4:33 pm

      gosh how different our perception is. I think David’s article has many examples of responses. However, my kind response to you is I admire your honesty. thank you

  2. Amal on January 13, 2023 at 4:19 pm

    This very interesting article. Thanks for sharing

  3. Sallie Evans on January 13, 2023 at 4:58 pm

    Thanks David, at first, I too was looking for an answer from you, but then as I read on and thought about it, there is no definitive answer, and had you given one, who’s to say that that would be the correct answer for that particular situation. I realised as you say, that there is no set answer, every situation/person is different, and so requires a different response each time. SO, what your blog has given me, is that I MUST stay true to myself, however that plays out to be on that particular day, I must be true to myself and that is the answer! THANK YOU!

  4. Mary McManus on January 13, 2023 at 5:01 pm

    Spot on as always David. I love how you gave different scenarios and showed the complexity of both human behavior and our responses to the behavior of others. The most important take away from this post for me is to not allow another’s behavior to change the essence of who I am. I hope you will consider including this topic if it fits into your next book because it certainly addresses a very important question!

  5. Mary Pauline Cornes. on January 13, 2023 at 7:36 pm

    I found this extremely Helpful, David,
    Thank you so much for Sharing it it..

  6. Wendy on January 13, 2023 at 8:05 pm

    Honestly the planets seem to align when I’m struggling. This is exactly what I experienced this week and this article made me realise kindness and compassion always comes out on top!

  7. Carol on January 14, 2023 at 12:02 am

    Thank you David for your thoughts on the matter and I totally agree with you. BTW how could anyone be unkind to you!! Sending you kindness❤️

  8. Heather on January 14, 2023 at 11:17 am

    Kindness in response to animosity is one of my intentions for 2023. When we are unkind, everyone loses. Thank you (and to spirit) for this sweet sharing of compassion as an alternative to anger, hurt, revenge, etc.

  9. Wendy on January 14, 2023 at 12:24 pm

    Thank you for this. It’s good!
    Wendy

  10. Christopher Evans on January 14, 2023 at 4:33 pm

    Thanks David
    The article is very timely as we have a situation with a neighbour that has gone over the ‘ being kind to self boundary’ She has I think directed her own frustration and problems to explode in angry and unacceptable behaviour ( we are her football to kick) and it’s very tempting to react However l recognise that it’s easier to get along with friends than people who have issues

    It’s good to draw a line with unconscious people but at the same time important to stay true to ourselves and as you say not allow bad experiences to change us for the worse

    After all Christ grappled with the same and worse – being crucified ‘ father forgive them for they know not what they do ‘.

    Of course, they DO know what they do but if
    They are in a similar state of mind to your example – they are really quite unconscious in the spiritual self

    …your blog on the subject is very timely and helpful … no easy answers, but staying true to who we are despite others is an inspiration to me
    Thanks

  11. Christopher Evans on January 14, 2023 at 4:38 pm

    Hello David
    Your blog article is very timely as we have a situation with a neighbour that has gone over the ‘ being kind to self boundary’ She has I think directed her own frustration and problems to us exploding in angry and unacceptable behaviour. ( We are her football to kick) and it’s very tempting to react However l recognise that it’s easier to get along with friends than people who have issues. It’s good to draw a line with unconscious people but at the same time important to stay true to ourselves and as you say not allow bad experiences to change us for the worse. After all Christ grappled with the same, and worse – being crucified ‘ father forgive them for they know not what they do ‘. Of course, they DO know what they do but not spiritually, if they are unconscious in the spiritual sense. Your blog on the subject is very timely and helpful … no easy answers, but staying true to who we are despite others is an inspiration to me
    Thanks

  12. Leslie on January 15, 2023 at 6:28 am

    I also have experienced a rather up and down time lately in my interactions with other
    “ well meaning “ family and friends. The world is a bit topsy turvy at the moment, and
    I find we must be generous with our understanding of others, as everyone seems to be
    a bit off balance in their lives. We are all witnessing great change at the moment in our
    personal lives and in the world , and many are just discombobulated. We must simply
    strive to be the best humans we can possibly be, and encourage others to do the same.
    Love one another, as we wish to be loved….❤️Thankyou for being on the planet David ❣️

  13. Jane on January 15, 2023 at 4:54 pm

    Thanks for this as I’m having problems with a work colleague at the moment so this has been useful.

Leave a Comment