Menu
Announcement: Want to share your story in the next Tiny Buddha book? Learn more here!

Being Kinder in What You Say, One Word at a Time

“The smallest act of kindness is worth more than the grandest intention.” ~Oscar Wilde

I believe in kindness.

I am not, by nature, a kind person.

But I’m trying to be.

My tongue is sharp. I’m far too often the first to come back with a sharp retort.

Sarcasm and I were old companions, until about four years ago, when I had what I thought was just a casual conversation with a friend. But the next time I saw her, there was a distance between us.

I finally had a chance to speak with her alone, and asked what was the matter.

“You always have get a shot in.”

Oh.

I couldn’t even remember what we’d been talking about. Nothing important, really.

I did know I hadn’t meant to be cruel. That whatever it was I’d said, I’d only meant it as teasing, or a friendly poke. A chance to be clever, witty.

But I’ve learned that it’s better to be kind than clever.

That too often what I think is wit is closer to hurtful.

I may think we’re playing, trading silly jests, but I don’t know how the other person is feeling that day. Something that may normally ride lightly on them may strike an unknown injury, remind them of another hurt.

A game that I played for my own amusement isn’t worth the risks.

I don’t really want to be the person who always gets a shot in. The person my friends are hesitant to chat with, because they don’t know if they’re going to be next to be teased.

So I’m willing to work at nurturing kindness in my speech, and in my actions. I haven’t changed my entire life yet, but drop-by-drop, word-by-word, lots of little things add up.

Here are some of my “daily drops,” should you wish to incorporate them into your life, as well:

  • Think before you speak. I’m not always good at this. But I’m getting better. Taking a sip of water, of a bite of my sandwich creates space to think about my reply, and often reshape it, soften it, or discard it all together.
  • If you realize you’ve already said something harsh, or something that through your own history could be interpreted as harsh, apologize immediately. I do this because I’d rather not risk being misunderstood.
  • Take care of yourself. Show yourself kindness. Make sure your own needs are met as well. I’ve found that it’s far too easy to slip into my old habits if I’m tired or hungry or stressed out and overwhelmed.
  • Check to see if you’re off center in another area of your life. I may not consciously mean to be cruel, but I’ve noticed that I’m more tempted to be sharp tongued if I’m upset about something else, even if it’s completely unrelated to the person I’m speaking with now.
  • Invite kindness into other areas of your life. One of my favorite questions now is “What’s the kind choice?” Most of the time the answer isn’t what I expect.
  • Practice gratitude. I may not always feel like writing down three things to be grateful for, but even one object of happiness can bring me back to center, remind me that there’s really nothing to be so sharp about.
  • Remember to be kind to people you may not actually like. It’s easy to make kindness to my friends a priority. But strangers or people who actively rub me the wrong way deserve gentleness as well.
  • Reflect at the end of the day. I do this not to punish myself, but to look back when I’m not in the moment, see how I did, and if situations come up again, are there other choices I could make.
  • Practice. None of this is easy. None of it comes naturally. But like anything else, consistent, mindful practice makes it easier, day-by-day.

There have been unexpected benefits to this practice of kindness. I can feel myself softening, becoming a gentler person. My sharp edges seem to be smoothing away.

Not all the way down. But enough that kindness doesn’t feel like a foreign language to my tongue. Someday, I might even think of it as second nature.

And when kindness comes naturally, we’re being kind to ourselves and others.

Photo by Ed Yourdon

Avatar of Corie Weaver

About Corie Weaver

Corie Weaver works with people exploring purposeful productivity at The Missing Piece and writes about experiments with happiness at Honey and Toast.

Announcement: Wish you could change your past? Learn to let go and create a life you love with the Tiny Buddha course!
  • http://www.motivation.net.au/quotes/life-quotes Quotes Life

    I want to show gratitude for writing such a
    good feature article, really will support me out in frequent ways…

     

  • http://bloggingwhilenursing.com KalleyC @BloggingWhileNursing

    This really was a good article to read, think and reflect about. Sometimes our behavior comes off the wrong way if we haven’t clearly thought about how the other person may take it and how they are feeling that day.

  • Lori

    Holy guacamole, I think you are my long lost twin. Everything you say rings true with me. Do you have a short temper too? I’ve found doing the things you mention can keep the frustration and anger at bay a little too. Not only by watching what you say, but recognizing it may be a negative thought & trying to turn it around before you say something. It benefits you and the other person. Thanks for this – its good to know I’m not alone in this struggle!

  • Joanna

    Hey Corrie, thanks for your honesty. I think that if we have spent a lot of time with men growing up or in work environments we can learn to behave in this banter/ teaser one up manship, which is a defence behaviour they have been taught or use naturally – it can make us aggressive to be around with other women, because we naturally do t bond that way, so it moves from love, trust and connection to a battle.

  • Kondylas

    I have just recently become aware that sefl-deprecating humor allows everyone to relax while humor about another individual or group can increase tension.  I laugh at myself and that allows others to know me better and to laugh out loud with me.  This article was really awesome and I also struggle with this issue.  Thank you.

  • JT

    This hits way close to home especially when I thought I was being witty and inadvertently hurting those who I love most dearly. I am working on being a kinder person in the way I present myself and react to situations. Thank you for sharing your words of wisdom and continued good luck to you.

  • http://www.facebook.com/jeff.mcandrews Jeff McAndrews

    I used to drown people in sarcasm, it was a nasty habit that at times resurfaces when I’m having a hard time dealing with my own internal pain.  
    I remember when I was a kid we used to say “Sticks and stones may break my bones, but names won’t hurt my feelings.” Nothing could be further from the truth.Whether said in jest, anger or fear the words we choose can have a lasting impression on another.  
    I try every day to chose words that come from a place of compassion and love.

    Excellent post Corrie!

  • http://inderpalwig.tumblr.com/ inderpal wig

    Thank you for sharing your honesty – I truly appreciated it especially because I’ve been on the receiving end of the sarcasm on a regular basis from someone I love dearly. Knowing that you’ve recognized this and are growing from it to be good to yourself and to others, is truly inspirational. 

    In my case, we’re working towards balancing out what we lack. I’ve asked the other person to be more considerate and thoughtful about their words, whereas I’ve been requested to be more open and willing to laugh at myself, rather than take things too seriously all the time. It’s been interesting because I think we both feel like we’re expected to be someone who we’re not, however, for me it helps to think of it as being more open to learning and growing to be at peace and in acceptance of who we both are as individuals on this journey. 

  • Corie Weaver

    Kalley, I agree with you! Its so important to remember we can’t always know what’s going on in other peoples lives.

  • Corie Weaver

     Lori – you’re very much not alone!  I have a terrible time with my temper, but I think bit by bit its getting better (at least, I hope so!)

  • http://twitter.com/Arabedross Ara Bedrossian

    I, too, was sarcastic, and as you said, with practice and pause before speaking, I’ve become easier to talk with. The root of my problem, and perhaps all who are sarcastic, is insecurity. To compliment someone instead of joke or take digs takes courage in yourself and a change in perspective on life, and that perspective is kindness, as you put it, invite kindness in your life. For me, sarcasm only helped me, and that was fine, because I was only concerned with myself. Fake it until you make it works if there’s a necessary paradigm shift, and I’ve found that shift as empowering, kind people begin to surround me because I’ve changed the way I act. Best wishes to positive change!

  • Corie Weaver

     JT – I think so many times we think we’re being clever, but it just comes out all wrong. I’d love to think I’m clever, but I think the smarter thing for me is to just be silent :)

  • Corie Weaver

     Jeff – Sarcasm is so seductive, isn’t it? I still have to fight against that, but I’m working on it!

  • Corie Weaver

     inderpal wig – thank you for sharing about the other side of the story. We need to hear more about how our words affect people.

  • Corie Weaver

     Joanna – Its so funny, because I always just thought of things as teasing… but its just too easy to slip into words being weapons. And its just easier, for me at least, to decide to de-weaponize first.

  • Corie Weaver

     Kondylas – I think that piece of wisdom can be used in many ways. Its always better to look at, and laugh at myself!

  • Corie Weaver

     Best wishes to all of us for finding that courage and making the change!

  • Janschlupp

    One piece of feedback: I commonly find it harder to be patient with the ones I love than with strangers. I wonder if this is a common problem? So I guess it’s important to be gentle either way.

  • http://twitter.com/WebmoneyCredits WebmoneyCredits.Ru

     Where to get the courage?

  • Corie Weaver

     I think you’re right – I know its easier for me to make a special effort with strangers… perhaps its the notion of being on good behavior?

  • Rebecca

    I feel the same way, Janschlupp!  I think Corie is on to something with the idea of being on good behavior.  I also think that the people who are closest to us are the easiest to take for granted simply because they are closest to us. It’s easy to forget that our assumptions about them may not be as close to the truth as we may think.

  • Rebecca

    Thank you for this post, Corie!  I strive to promote kindness in words especially, and sometimes it feels as though I am the only one.  Our modern culture has forgotten the power which words have, and takes so much of language and conversation (which is rare in itself – so much is mindless talking without really listening) for granted.  I’ve also been on both sides of this topic – thoughtlessly throwing wisecracks and receiving unnecessary and hurtful comments.  The latter has helped me to be more mindful of how my own words may be received – and to be more gentle in the receiving as well, as I recognize that more often than not people to not intend to be hurtful.  I’m glad that there are others who are also practicing presence of mind!  Thank you for sharing your story with us.

  • Divya5809

    Amazing article, very well put. Thanks, it was just what I need.

  • http://www.facebook.com/denis.howe Denis Howe

    Thank you very much for this post which really struck a chord.  Often things I have said in anger or out of hubris make me wince when I think back on them.  Sometimes I’m so horrible to those around me that I hate myself for it.  I shall reread your post every day until I learn to speak to people the way I’d like them to speak to me.

  • ShaeC

    I love that you are both willing to accept where you see a need to improve yourself, while also accepting that your friends still love you and that you are worthy.  Striking that balance, I’ve found, has been the biggest challenge to making the changes I know I need to make.

  • rs

    Corie I really enjoyed this post for a few reasons. For some time, the dynamic in my family was a free-for-all with sarcasm and friendly jabs. My brother, up until this past year had a hard time with this same issue because he hid behind his teasing or rather insulting of others, as a defence mechanism for his insecurities. We all tease each other but we learn where the line is, my brother usually crossed that line growing up, often times unaware of its location and therefore in a lot of trouble for it. Recently, he hit rock bottom after an emotional breakdown when a longterm relationship ended rather ugly and unfortunately. His mannerisms have changed and although he is still entirely witty he is more conscious of others’ feelings, often apologizes immediately if he thinks he is a touch out of bounds or picks on himself for comedic relief. I believe this came with him rebuilding himself and his confidence. He is more approachable and outwardly caring today then he has ever been, and I couldn’t be more proud of how he picked himself up again. Now that I have witnessed this behaviour in my own brother, it helps me understand it in the man I love, who recently discovered there is much about himself he does not love. This becomes evident in his harsh sarcasm and sometimes cruel commenting but the journey towards kindness and self-love is neverending and with a little honesty – with others and ourselves, we can all make it there.
    I think this is something many of us struggle with, sometimes unconciously, and I too catch myself at times speaking ahead of my mind and later regretting it. Thank you for this wonderful piece of wisdom.

  • http://twitter.com/CherSeattle Cheryl

    I was the queen of sarcasm too… until I was told about 10 years ago that the root of the word means TO TEAR FLESH.

    Viewing it that way? Makes it a lot less funny, clever, witty, etc. right?

  • Happuk

    Wonderful article; I heart. I too am in transition and this helps. Thanks!

  • kittendelight

    Your change of mind about sarcasm is based on the root of the word? That is a potent metaphor but that can’t be the sole reason that makes sarcasm negative. Sarcasm can be used in order to belittle or hurt people but it can also be used constructively. If it’s overused it can make someone seem bitter and mean-spirited though, but I love sarcasm! Perhaps it would be more accurate to say I like hyperbole which is the umbrella term that includes sarcasm and irony