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The Greatest Lesson We Learn When Someone Is Unkind

Lonely Girl

“I have learned silence from the talkative, toleration from the intolerant, and kindness from the unkind.” ~Khalil Gibran

I recently travelled to Malaysia for a friend’s wedding where I spent four delicious days communing with wild monkeys and feasting on sticky rice. The people were kind and warm, the culture rich, the trip magical.

On my last day in Kuala Lumpur, I was headed out to buy souvenirs for family and friends when I stumbled across the most beautiful temple—filled with ornate gold and red statues, air thick with sweet-smelling smoke.

I wandered around, overcome with majesty, trying to breathe it all in. I was still under the temple’s spell when someone spoke to me.

“Your dress is ugly.”

I looked to my right where the voice had come from. A woman was sitting on a bench, not looking in my direction.

“Sorry?”  I said, thinking I must have misheard. She waved me off.

I stood there for a moment, trying to decide on a course of action. She was American, the first and only other American I’d met during my trip.

Had she really just said my dress was ugly? It was a simple blue affair, uncomplicated and perfect for traveling. Maybe she said my dress was pretty, I thought. I must have misunderstood.

The hurt and confusion was rising to a crescendo in my head. But if I’ve learned anything over the last few years, it’s that we all have a choice of how we choose to respond to what we are given. I chose to engage.

“Did you just say my dress is ugly?” I asked.

“Yeah,” she said. “I did.”

I took a deep breath and replied, calmly, “Why would you say that to me?”

“I’m entitled to my opinion,” she said. “Your dress is ugly; I can tell it’s not well made. Your purse is dirty. I am free to voice my thoughts and those are my thoughts about you.” 

To say it felt like getting slapped in the face would be an understatement; it was more of a punch to the gut. My blood boiled, my heart raced, and still I kept my voice at an even keel.

“You are entitled to your own opinion,” I said. “But we also live in congress with other human beings. Why would you say something so aggressive and unkind?”

At which point she reiterated her insults. Her words sliced coolly into the way I looked and the clothes I wore. That’s when I said the one thing I regret saying.

“I wish there were fewer Americans like you traveling abroad,” I told her. “You give the rest of us a bad name.”

I turned and walked away, and she yelled one more barb at my back as I walked out of the temple. I didn’t turn around.

My hands were shaking as I walked down the street. I felt a strange knot of emotions in my chest: hurt, anger, fear.

I was irrationally terrified that I would run into her again, that she would be sitting in the seat next to me on my flight home and I would be subjected to seventeen hours of her cruelty, unable to escape.

But most of all I felt baffled. Why did this woman choose to attack me? Why had she said what she said?

I couldn’t call my boyfriend, who was back in our sunny home in California, or my best friend in DC—both of whom were sound asleep halfway across the world. So I was left to process what had happened on my own, in a foreign country, without my normal triumvirate of “healthy coping mechanisms”: yoga, conversation, tea.

And here’s what it all came down to: kindness.

I had just read the wonderful convocation address given by George Saunders to the Syracuse class of 2013. George talks about something he calls a “failure of kindness,” and those three words were very much on my mind.

Yes, you could say I had suffered from a failure of kindness. But what I realized was that I, too, had been unkind.

I wish I hadn’t said what I said to her. That came from a place of being wounded, of feeling the need to fight back. I wish I had said: “I hope the people you meet are kind.”

Because I do hope that for her. I hope that she is bathed in loving-kindness, that she is inundated with so much that she cannot help but share it with the world.

While it’s true that kindness engenders kindness, the lack of it can be a powerful teacher.

For my remaining hours in Kuala Lumpur, I was abundantly kind to everyone I met. I complimented a girl on her joyful spirit, told shop owners how beautiful their merchandise was, smiled widely and genuinely. I made a point to be kind to these warm, generous people who had so kindly shared their country with me.

And every time I was shown kindness, no matter how small, I felt immeasurably grateful.

That woman gave me a great gift. She reminded me that we all have a choice to be kind, and we are presented with that choice many times a day.

Say a kind word to someone you don’t know.

It doesn’t have to be an eloquent oration—a simple compliment can make someone’s day. If you like a man’s tie or a woman’s necklace, tell them so. And if you are struck by someone’s personality or spirit, thank them for it.

Write a note to someone you appreciate.

Tell a co-worker, family member, or friend what you appreciate about them. Don’t hold back. These are the sorts of gifts people treasure, often keeping that little slip of paper (or Facebook post) for many years to come.

Tip someone who doesn’t normally get tips.

This was easy in Malaysia, where tipping is rare—one young woman was so happy she went dancing down the hall. Tipping can be a great way to show people you are grateful for their service. I still remember the night I gave $10 to a tired young man at a Taco Bell drive-thru. His eyes lit up like fireflies.

We’ve all committed failures of kindness when we are hurt, angry, or tired. But each of us holds within us the power to achieve triumphs of kindness every day.

Photo by Robert Vitulano

Avatar of Bree Barton

About Bree Barton

Bree is a freelance writer living in Pasadena with her boyfriend and little black dog. She has ghostwritten a handful of books and penned articles under her own name for USA Today, LA Times, and Huffington Post. She’s also got an exciting young adult novel in the works, so stay tuned.

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  • ROCKY MARCIANO

    Life is too small for hatred. Love is God and God is love.To be polite to others and pray for their well being is Spiritualism.
    Great post Bree

  • Cassia

    Thank you for this. I have a terrible predisposition to utterly destroy those who attack me in this way. It threatens me to my core and I am trying to discover why. Spreading kindness off of the back of an insult sounds like a much more fulfilling activity and one that I can choose as opposed to the reactions that usually leap from my lips in anger uncontrollably.

  • Kind Mother

    Your post was refreshing and reminded me I am not alone in this world. Growing up in the deep South, I was raised to love and respect others and to above all be kind. Life’s reality, however, is unusually harsh and cold. I find myself surrounded on a day to day basis by unkind bullies. As a 43 year old mother of 3 beautiful, kind children, I find the way others treat me repugnant. My greatest gift to myself in times where I feel so sad and hurt is to say something my grandmother alwasy said to me as a reply: “Jesus loves you.” It alwasy stops them dead in their tracks, confusion littered upon their ignorant faces. And I just smile and go on about my day knowing that I didn’t give them the negative encounter or reponse they were hoping for to justify their dislike of me.

  • Learning Yogi

    Thank you for this healthy reminder. I had a rough weekend where I felt some unkindness directed towards me. This helps put some things into perspective.

  • Tee Teehee

    Bree, thank you for your wonderful blog. I’d like to disagree though. I think what you said to her was perfect. If we let cruel people “get away with” their cruelty, we signal to them that what they did was “ok”. She would not have respected your act of kindness (had you said what you thought about later). She would have considered you weak and it would have gone over her head that you were being the bigger person. Truly cruel people only understand a taste of their own medicine. I hope that she meets only kind people also. But I also wish that people like her wouldn’t travel and give people like you a bad reputation.

  • bluebell

    i do sometimes give compliments to strangers, and you’re right, their faces can light up….because i’m quite shy and introverted i make a point of always chatting to the person manning the till in shops while i’m packing my groceries….i feel it’s a thankless job and i’m sure they get all manner of rude and impatient people in their queue, so it’s nice when they respond as if they are pleased someone is taking the time to ask them about their day for a change……but equally so i do get some people who will act suspiciously when i give a compliment as if i’m wanting something, but the truth is i’m just giving a compliment for compliment sake.

    thank you for sharing your story bree!

  • Ingrid

    Thank you so much for sharing Bree. I’m sure your dress was beautiful. Love and light.

  • ToonForever

    I respectfully disagree :)

    I think that what Bree would go back and say in hindsight would have a better chance of putting the woman’s unkindness into perspective than an aggressive retort. Had Bree responded with that sort of kindness in return, would you consider that this woman would have “gotten away with” anything?

    I don’t, not at all. Such a response would, I think, deny this woman whatever emotional reward she sought in being so aggressive. I feel the kind approach would look beyond the act and see that this woman must herself be suffering to wish to inflict unkindness on a stranger in such a beautiful place.

  • altsouli

    Her behavior is a sure sign of self-loathing and unhappiness. Once we notice that other people’s behavior toward the world is a reflection of themselves, we can then know how to respond. She’s hateful, angry, and was looking for a fight and you gave her what she wanted. Maybe next time you can kill her with kindness. That will shut her up.

  • WendyMaria

    What that woman said to you about your dress says more about her than the state of your dress and purse. Hurt people hurt people…therefore she needs returned kindness more than most of us.

  • Anna

    I enjoyed reading your blog. I often wonder why people can be so mean and always come back to the conclusion that what they say is actually a reflection of how bad they are feeling about themselves. They can not bear to admit it to themselves, in fact they probably don’t even know, as they live a shallow life never looking too deeply at themselves. They have to knock someone down in order to build themselves up. I am glad you rejected this sad ladies comment and that it actually enriched your trip. Well done for sorting all this out with out your normal support. Anna x

  • Lee Chanel

    Maybe you looked really good and she was bitter .. I feel pity for such people because it is really not about what people look like on the outside and she just made herself that much more unattractive no matter how she looked. We do not know what story she has – maybe you resemble someone who really hurt her. Love her, forgive her – she does not deserve it, but you do.

  • Karen Scott-Boyd

    My current awareness is to try to remember we’re all mostly, reacting to our own feelings. This woman’s comment, to my mind, wasn’t about you or your dress, it was a reaction to how she was feeling. At the level of personality this is what we do and at the level of soul, we all agreed to this dance. Spiritual elitism would have us believe we are more spiritual or better people when we’re kind – in fact she seems to have been a great soul as are you. You both kept your sacred agreement to cross paths at that time; trigger one another and give one another an opportunity to respond. We experience ourselves as kind and unkind in the presence of those who are kind or unkind….can we accept ourselves unconditionally in every moment. Can we simply say, next time I’d like to experience myself differently and I’ve made peace with who I was in that moment.

  • tirmite

    Your journey through that experience ended in a good place. Wise of you to reflect instead of just deflect. Perhaps she was put there to say that to you so you would write this article? Your very own (not-so-kind) tiny buddha!

  • Stephen Fraser

    Being able to respond to unkindness with kindness is a skill I still aspire to, but one I know would benefit both myself and the world. Anger will never resolve anger. Hate will never be healed with more hate. Compassion and love are the only hope in all of these circumstances. Progress is the key. A little less angry, a little more loving. A lot more compassionate with myself and others.

  • Meghan Hedrick

    I’m struggling with the same thing right now. I’m trying to be more assertive and aggressive, because I’ve noticed that people trample over me when I exhibit kindness. Just the other day, in the mall, a woman cut right in front of me, in order to enter a shop. I had just glanced into the shop while passing, meaning that I didn’t notice her, almost walking right into her. I stopped short and said “Oh my god, I’m so sorry,” but she just glared at me like ‘how dare you be in my way’, even though she was so impatient that she couldn’t just cross behind me. Later, I thought “Why did I do that? Why did I apologize when it clearly wasn’t my fault? It clearly made me look like the weak one.” It isn’t just situations like that. I often feel badly for being honest, because I see so many people getting away with, and benefiting from, being liars, cheats, and thieves. It really shouldn’t be that way.

  • Laura Maldonado

    Loved your note Bree! and came in the right moment cause last month and this experienced two different situations from unkindly people, and now I see these issues more clearly thanks to your story…. I think one has to say what one thinks to an unkind and openly aggressive person but not get caught in anger and feel dismissed. This is the difficult part! But these moments are lessons, no doubt about it, and it depends on us to convert something bad in something positive for the rest of our lives. That is the important matter! thanks!

  • scoobycat

    Bree, this was an absolutely wonderful post. I empathize with you in this situation as I have experienced similar situations myself. Turning your negative experience into an extremely enlightening, uplifting reflection on personal conduct is beautiful.

  • seemjay

    Wonderful post! In 2005 I realized that of all the things that might seem important to me to be, or appear to be, like smart, efficient, productive, correct, funny, generous, creative, courageous, the MOST important thing was to be kind. Many situations, especially at work, provide opportunities to let these others things dominate one’s actions, which leaves us open to being unkind, usually accidentally, and often without us even realizing it. But in truth, in all situations, nothing ever trumps the importance of being kind, and when we realize that, we can decide to put kindness first.

  • anu

    Awesome post Bree. I can totally identify with your situation and am feeling better after hearing your story and the subsequent lesson you so expertly elucidated. I would have also reacted like you and what you did to that woman at the first instance was a natural reaction, but what you realized later is the victory of your character. A worthy lesson for me and many others. Perhaps, each uncomfortable situation teaches us to admire our good fortune and make us sympathetic towards those who aren’t so lucky.

  • Nymeria

    I love the lesson and your kind attitude to others after the incident. I have found myself in similar situations and reacted the same way to other people afterwards. However, when it came to the rude person I told them to fuck off and consider it an act of karma. You reap what you sow.

  • Bree Barton

    Hi Cassia,
    I know the feeling! Believe me: the demon of destruction was seething in me, too, and it took will and patience to move through it that day. But you’re right: spreading more kindness ended up being so much more satisfying. Thanks for your kind and honest note!

  • Bree Barton

    Hi Learning Yoga,
    I’m so sorry to hear about your rough weekend. I can’t see you, so I can’t compliment your hair or your (gorgeous!) spirit, but your note gives me insight into the person you are: and you are kind, and you are beautiful. Thanks for posting, and I hope you’re headed into a brighter week.

  • Bree Barton

    Hi Bluebell,
    You sound like a gem! I wonder how many people’s days have improved exponentially because of the kindnesses you’ve shown and the compliments you’ve given. You’re right, it can be a thankless job, but from me to you: thank you!

  • Savannah833

    I respectfully disagree. The point is not to “teach someone a lesson” or “give them a taste of her own medicine”. That is simply fighting fire with fire–and that is what gets so many of us in trouble every single day. We aren’t out to change the world or the people in it, but rather to accept it and choose to let in those who make us better. It is not up to us to improve anyone–we must let go of the need to control.

    And the truth is, this person likely did not take what she said in a way that taught her a lesson. Instead it probably reinforced her bitterness and pushed her to hate even more. She likely thought, “see–the world is full of mean people, she clearly deserved what I gave her”.

    A couple of years ago, a good friend of mine was walking down the street on a sunny day, feeling wonderful after just taking an exam that she felt she aced, when a complete stranger stopped and said to her, “your fatness is disgusting”.

    My friend was absolutely shocked. She was numb for a moment but them immediately said, with no anger, but with compassion, “I’m so sorry you aren’t having a good day”, and then she walked off.
    She didn’t care how that person responded to her– she just knew in her heart that she returned unkindness with kindness– and that left her feeling wonderful. It also helped her understand that hatefulness likely stems from unhappiness, and it made her grateful that she wasn’t in a place where she felt it was okay to bring another person down.

    As it were, the person was absolutely silent in response.

  • Bree Barton

    Thank you, Ingrid! It’s been hard to wear that dress, honestly, since it happened, but thanks to your message I’m going to pull it out today, and I’m going to wear the heck out of it. Love and light to you as well—thanks for sharing yours with me.

  • Savannah833

    Why does it make you appear weak? You were courteous while this other person, who likely is unhappy in her life to be so impatient, wasn’t able to extend the same kindness to you. Choose to see it not that you’re weak, but that you extended a kindness to someone who clearlyl doesn’t have enough to give to another.

  • Bree Barton

    Ah, altsouli, how different the world would be if we all “killed with kindness.” From now on I may strive to “kiss with kindness” instead. I think this poor woman wanted much more fight than I was willing to give her, but I’m happy I walked away when I did. Thanks for reading!

  • Bree Barton

    You hit the nail on the head, WendyMaria! I remember a wise woman telling me exactly that after a bad breakup years ago: “Hurting people hurt people.” And it’s so true. I hope that woman bumps into kindness everywhere she turns today—and I hope you do as well!

  • Bree Barton

    Thanks for the kind words, Anna! And for understanding how something sad and hurtful could end up enriching my trip and my experience on this earth. I will absolutely check out your website—thank you for sending. I’m part of a wonderful group called SoulCollage, which could be called “collaging for your soul.” I have truly loved it, and I am so happy there are people like you in the world sharing these creative paths to healing and fulfillment!

  • Bree Barton

    I couldn’t agree more, Stephen. Anger is not the answer to anger, hate is not the answer to hate. It’s hard when a human being shows us one of these emotions, because it is our intrinsic desire as empathetic human beings to mirror it back to them. And it is damn HARD to do it differently—but I love that you’re aspiring to do exactly that. Thanks so much for sharing!

  • Savannah833

    What a wonderful post, thank you so much for sharing your story and lesson. It is hard not to want to retaliate when someone insults you–especially if you’re an emotional person such as myself (not only am I quick to get upset, but I’m also quick to get unbelievably happy).

    One thing I’ve learned in therapy however is there is something beautiful about waiting to response (to allow emotions to cool) and understanding that communication rarely is effective when barbs are thrown. As you shared, the woman likely took your insult and filed it away in her mental folder as evidence that her unsolicited, cruel opinion is warranted because people are unkind.

    Instead, and I admit this is where I would struggle, calmly telling her, “i’m so sorry you’re having a bad day” and then walking away, says so much more. It communicates so much more, and it also allows her to reflect a bit on what she said.

  • Bree Barton

    Thank you so much, Laura! I’m happy and grateful my story came at the right time. It’s so hard, isn’t it, seeing things clearly when someone is unkind? I know I walked around Malaysia in a haze, trying so hard to sort out all the feelings buzzing in my head. It’s clear from your message you are someone who can perform that compassionate alchemy of turning something bad into something positive. I’m grateful you’re in the world!

  • Bree Barton

    Thank you, scoobycat, for your incredibly generous words. I am so honored you appreciated my post. It’s been hugely enlightening and uplifting for me, too, getting feedback like yours, and feeling like I was able to turn this negative experience into something beautiful. See, you’ve already performed one act of kindness today: you’ve made MY day!

  • Bree Barton

    You said it, Anu! Lately I’ve been thinking a lot about how the uncomfortable situations in my life have taught me so much more than the comfortable ones. From our pain and hurt come our biggest lessons. I felt a tide of love and gratitude after my conversation with that woman—something I don’t think I would have felt otherwise. And I’m still riding it now, hearing from people like you. Thanks for your thoughtful insight!

  • Bree Barton

    Ha! You’re feisty one, Nymeria, and believe you me: plenty of my friends told me they would have responded EXACTLY like you did . . . and that I would have been justified in doing so! I think about that woman sometimes and wonder if she hears “F U” a lot in her daily life. I really do hope she encounters kindness. Thanks for relating to my post and for commenting!

  • Bree Barton

    Thanks so much, Rocky. You said it all, really and truly. Love is God, God is love, no matter what you believe or who you are. Thanks for loving my post and sharing your wisdom. I intend to keep on sharing yours.

  • Bree Barton

    Ah, do I recognize a Texas “tirmite” in our midst? Thanks for reading, unc. You’re always quick with the comebacks, but you ARE kind, and don’t think you can convince me otherwise! I will continue to reflect instead of deflect, and to write about it all, as a way to process this wild and wacky world!

  • Bree Barton

    Amen, seemjay! It sounds like we’re on such a similar path. One by one those other adjectives have taken a back-seat for me in recent years, with kindness taking the wheel. I wouldn’t have privileged kindness above all else in my teens or early twenties, but today I’ve come to appreciate exactly what you said: nothing ever trumps the importance of being kind. Thanks for sharing your hard-earned wisdom!

  • Bree Barton

    That’s such great advice, Lee. Thanks for sharing. I’ve thought a lot about that, too: Did I stir up bad memories for her? Did something about the way I looked or the clothes I was wearing remind her of some prior trauma? Forgiveness is an action verb, an ongoing process, and you’re exactly right: it ultimately ends up being a gift for the forgiver. Thanks for being so kind and thoughtful.

  • Jennie Koczan

    Don’t stop being a good person just because someone else wants to be a jerk. There is so much good in taking the high road even when you don’t want to. You really do reap what you sow. Maybe that woman was in the middle of her own harvest…

  • Julie

    That was just what I needed to read, thank you. Got a dose of unkindness myself today, and it just freakin’ undid me! Amazing how that can occur. I think that some folks equate being kind to being a doormat, which is not true. One can stand up for oneself and still be kind, and teach by example. Someone who is being unkind is already unhappy and defensive; more words of the same to them will not reach them at all.

  • Veronica Lopez

    Beautiful article! Just this morning I had a conversation with my brother about this. He’s very agressive when he comunicates, often hurt my feelings that I decided not to share important things with him anymore. But today he was open so I took the chance to expose this problem. He told me he didn’t realized he hurt me so much, that he spoke his mind without thinking first. He told me he didn’t mean to hurt my feelings. We talked and he promised to change, so we can have a good relationship. It’s so important to be kind, even a smile or a cheerful hello can make someone’s day…

  • dedhed

    Something similar happened to me a few years ago. My wife and I were visiting our daughter in her new city of Minneapolis. I’d never been there, and we were enjoying being tourists-just walking down the street-when this guy looked me in the eye, and smiling, said “Look at this f’ing cracker walking down the street.” I’m from a small town, and didn’t even know what a cracker was, but I knew it was an insult. I didn’t say anything, and kept walking, but it ruined my whole visit. It still bothers me years later, but I managed to make a joke of it when I told my coworkers back home. I’m not sure if I could have handled it in any other way.

  • OnPoint

    Hi Bree,
    Thank you so much for sharing this awkward situation. Been there too! To sit back and say, ok, I send you love and peace is easier said than done, and not say anything. I think sometimes it is important to say something, really important in fact, especially when your inner voice tells you to do so. This voice is not to be confused with the reactionary ego voice, but a guiding voice of sorts.

    To her comment: “Your dress is ugly; I can tell it’s not well made. Your purse is dirty. I am free to voice my thoughts and those are my thoughts about YOU.”

    I would have liked to have said, “Thank you for your opinion, yes, you are free to voice your opinion, as am I. Thank you for opening up this conversation. Your opinions are about MY CLOTHES, not about ME or WHO I AM. In fact, you know NOTHING about ME, or why I wear these clothes. What is very interesting here, though, is that I now know something about YOU, and WHO YOU ARE. How you judge people that you don’t even know – do you think that is a pretty? I am so sorry for you, I wish you a better perspective, and I am thankful I do not judge like you.”

    Thank you for sharing this Bree!
    Hugs to you!

  • Bree Barton

    What wise words, Karen. You’re right: we kept our sacred agreement, she and I. And while I can’t speak to her experience of our exchange, I know I value the opportunity she gave me to reflect, respond, and recognize. Thanks for reminding me to accept myself (and others) unconditionally in every moment. And thanks for reading Tiny Buddha!

  • Bree Barton

    I was raised in the deep South too, Kind Mother! I learned so much about kindness from my Tennessean Mimi and my sweet Texan mom. Today, when I sent my mother this story, I thanked her for teaching me how to show kindness, in ways both big and small. Your children are going to be thanking *you* some day—and I thank you now, for teaching love by example.

  • Bree Barton

    Hi Savannah,
    Thanks for such a great and thoughtful response! I’m like you: an extremely emotional, empathetic person (HSP!), who absorbs emotions like a sponge and is quick to feel both sad AND happy. And it’s true: it is so hard navigating that fine line between “speaking your truth” and “waiting to respond” (lord knows I’ve debated that one on many a therapist’s couch, ha). I’ll definitely keep your words in mind next time the opportunity presents itself. Thank you!

  • Bree Barton

    Ha! Thank you, Tee Teehee—I love that you are going to bat for me. It’s so hard, knowing what truly signifies weakness. Is it dishing up an honest-to-goodness dose of kindness? Or is it serving up a saucy and possibly snarky retort? I don’t think I’m wise enough to know the answer to that question; I’ll probably spend the rest of my life trying to figure it out. Thanks for your cogent and clear-eyed insight!

  • Bree Barton

    You’re wise, ToonForever—surely this woman was herself suffering, in ways I can’t even begin to understand. It’s hard to see the human past the act sometimes, especially when the act is so LOUD, and so hurtful. I wish I’d been better able to do that in Malaysia. I love what you’re saying, and I’m grateful you said it!

  • Bree Barton

    Yes yes YES, Meghan—preach it, girl! It’s so hard, especially as women, because I feel like we are brought up on a cultural diet of saying “Sorry” about every. little. thing . . . even when we have nothing at all to be sorry about. I applaud and commend you, for trying to be more assertive. Even this wonderful comment is you being assertive! I’m on a very similar journey: learning how to stand up for myself without being unkind in the process. I’m so happy to know I’m not alone on the path!

  • Bree Barton

    I love it, Jennie. The moon is full, the harvest will be rich. Thanks for your wisdom so generously dispensed.

  • lv2terp

    Thank you for this reminder, that is a tough one to practice, and yet a brave, courageous, and loving way to BE. Thank you for sharing your story!

  • Bree Barton

    Thanks, OnPoint! I love that response. It’s so true—my clothes have no bearing on who I am, nor does my purse. I’m kind of hoping people reading these comments will write down your wonderful and articulate response so they’ll be better prepared the next time someone is unkind to THEM! Love it. Hugs to YOU.

  • Bree Barton

    Hi Dedhed,
    I am so sorry this happened to you—and so grateful you shared it here, in this forum, where so many people have said wise and wonderful things about responding to unkind words. It hurts, doesn’t it? I feel like “forgive and forget” is a lot easier said than done. I don’t think I’ll ever forget what the woman in the temple said to me—and I expect you won’t, either—but I’ve worked hard on the forgiving, and I wish you much of the same. I’m happy my post struck a chord with you. Thanks for reading.

  • Gerry Fisher

    The woman’s comment spoke volumes about her and said nothing about you or your dress. Having said that, I can understand the challenge in the moment not to take her comment personally. I’m doing a lot of practicing lately allowing people to feel and think what they want about me without me feeling the need to change it, address it, defend myself from it, or often even addressing it at all.

  • Bree Barton

    Dear Veronica,
    What a beautiful, beautiful story! It brought tears to my eyes. Thanks for sharing this, and congratulations on having an open, honest discussion with your brother. It takes serious guts to be vulnerable—and you’ve clearly got ‘em. I’m cheering you on from afar. Thanks so much for reading, and for sharing your own triumph of kindness with us!

  • Gerry Fisher

    Cool anecdote.

  • OnPoint

    Thanks Bree. I almost needed to write it down for myself too! Yay! I love this mode of sharing and teaching and learning! So great!

  • exskindiver

    “I hope the people you meet are kind.” is a most beautiful response to unkindness. I hope to remember to think this, pray this, and say this as I move forward in life.

    It is such a forgiving response, and conveys no need to be right. It would keep the ego from being attached to the interaction while remaining peaceful. Bree, you may not have been able to say this at that moment, but I think that your retrospective blog post about the encounter is even better.

  • Mathematicaster

    I don’t think that you are correct. This nasty woman is bullet proof. She is best at everything always. She is the quintessential abusive sociopath. Saying “I hope you meet kind people” will carry as much weight with her as speaking to her in a foreign language. A stop and a stare would be better, I think. No verbal comeback is going to get her attention for she is perfect and we all stink. Not a nice comment, not a mean one, not a mad one. However, a good long stare before walking away means that she has to realize that she was heard and that she was disregarded.
    The good takeaway from this, though, is the writer’s being spurred on to make up for the nasty in this horrid woman by bringing kindness and light in return. But don’t waste a candle in a closet.

  • GM

    omg, I just shared this on my fb (because it is worth sharing), and literally this is what my Mom posts: ” I thought and thought about how you put your advice out. Then I thought I should be quiet because we don’t talk like that, and then I was so sad that I went home, had a heart attack and died…FB can be a weird way to have a friendship, if that’s all there is…Remember the parable being spun about kindness? I wanted to have a conversation with you, but like this, not really. I’ll be home after the rally. We can start by giving each other permission to say “stupid shit” and move on from there.”

  • Mathematicaster

    “Why, bless your heart. “

  • TG

    Thankyou! I have suffered in silence when attacked by an unkind person – out of shock, disbelief and hurt, I had no kind (or unkind) words to respond. I had given up a month of my own life to travel to the other side of the world, facing my own fears of travel, to help said unkind person to train and learn about their new job. Within 4 days of arriving in the foreign land, he set upon verbally attacking me in public, and ripped into me on all aspects of my personality, lifestyle, ethics – everything that I am. I can say that I did not retort with any unkind words against all instincts, but I do regret showing him how much I was hurting. His words stung like a slap in the face. I asked for space and left crying. I agree that he must be in a dark place to have attacked me in such a way, and I wish I could have responded in a more postitve way. How do you respond when the hurt is so overwhelming?

  • ToonForever

    I appreciate where you’re coming from, but I think your approach is unnecessarily aggressive and self-harmful. Bree isn’t responsible for this woman’s behavior, only for her own reaction. If one is committed to cultivating compassion and kindness, then an aggressive response is not helpful.

    Furthermore, and with all due respect, you make an awful lot of assumptions that I think are far beyond your ability to know. You may be projecting your own experience over it, but you don’t know this woman. You don’t know she’s bulletproof. You don’t know if this aggression is what you say or a last gasp attempt to control the impermanent flow of a painful life. You don’t know if the next kindness in the face of aggression is the one that will crack open the shell.

    “A good long stare” can be interpreted many different ways, since there are no words to clarify it, and itself can be as aggressive as any number of words one might say.

    If one is to err, erring on the side of kindness and compassion will do more for us and our world than any aggression ever will.

    Cheers.

  • Radiant Healing

    beautiful x thanks you . you reminded me that I too have choice

  • Safarigirl

    Interesting post. I, too, often find the random unkindness of strangers bewildering and wonder why anyone would choose to go about interacting with the world in that way. kindness from strangers is far more easily understood, as is unkindness from those we know. After all, when it’s someone you know, the unkindness can be rationalized in context – maybe you unknowing hurt the other person’s feelings – and there’s a pre-existing dialogue that allows the unkindness to be resolved productively, assuming both sides are invested in the relationship.

    But when someone who doesn’t know you from Adam delivers an uncalled-for verbal slap in the face, it has a permanent effect of lowering your faith in all humanity just a bit, because it proves beyond a shadow of a doubt that there are folks out there who will be mean simply for the sake of being mean.

  • Bree Barton

    WAY cool anecdote. Please tell your friend that she’s an inspiration and I am in awe of her—and tell her she ought to write for Tiny Buddha! What a beautiful woman, inside AND out.

  • Bree Barton

    Thanks for saying, Mathematicaster. I’m happy and honored to be able to turn this experience into something good, to spread light and kindness. Your candle’s burning bright, too. Here’s to luring people out of their sad and lonely closets whenever we can.

  • Bree Barton

    I’m on the same journey, Gerry! The practicing never ends, does it? I always used to tell my baby sister “just let it roll off of you like water on a duck’s back” (she got so sick of hearing that). Easier said than done, but I am so heartened that you, too are practicing every day. Thanks for reading Tiny Buddha. And thanks for saying that about my dress! :)

  • Bree Barton

    We all have a choice! Even when it doesn’t feel like it (and goodness knows, sometimes it really doesn’t feel like it). Thank you, Radiant Healing, for your kind words. Keep on being radiant, just as you are!

  • Bree Barton

    Exactly, Safarigirl. It was so confusing, wandering around in my little bubble of effervescent gratitude and bliss . . . and then having that bubble pierced with arbitrary meanness. There just wasn’t a framework that made it make sense, you know? Thanks for validating my experience—I’m so glad my post has generated a healthy discussion on the comment board. I appreciate your thoughtful note!

  • Bree Barton

    Oh, TG—I am so sorry to hear about your experience. This is excruciatingly painful, no way around it. It hurts my heart just to hear about it. You ask a great question: how DO you respond when the hurt is so overwhelming? Honestly, I feel the way you responded was incredibly kind and beautiful. You didn’t retaliate; you asked for space. You didn’t say nasty things; you walked away. I’m blown away reading your story, because to me you demonstrated heart-stopping, gut-wrenching kindness in a situation where you had risked so much and been so vulnerable. I think it’s okay that man saw your hurt. You were real every step of the way, even when he couldn’t be. That’s a gift you’ve given yourself, and you’ll have it for the rest of your life. Thanks for sharing that gift with us.

  • Bree Barton

    Wow, GM. It sounds like your whole world just shifted a few inches! This is kind of amazing, and strange, and inexplicable . . . and maybe wonderful, too. I certainly hope so. Thanks for sharing the post, and also for sharing this remarkable development. I feel like this could be a new tag line for TB—”Tiny Buddha: the catalyst for change, even the kind you never expected!”

  • Bree Barton

    Thank you, exskindiver! You’re so right: in a strange way, I’m grateful I wasn’t able to say it in the moment—instead I came home, processed what had happened, and was then able to write something that I could share it with even MORE people than I would have been able to that day. I’m so very grateful my words meant something to you. Thanks for reading!

  • Bree Barton

    Of course! Thanks for commenting, lv2terp. It IS a tough one to practice—I imagine I’ll be practicing for many years to come. But I am overcome with gratitude for the TB community and all the wonderful feedback this post has received. And I’m encouraged by the reminder that the world is filled with kind, thoughtful people like you!

  • Bree Barton

    So sorry you had a rough day, Julie! It’s amazingly powerful and pervasive, when someone is unkind—I have experienced that “unraveling” feeling so many times. But I love how you draw the distinction between “being a doormat” and “being kind.” Such an important distinction! Thanks for reading and for sharing your wisdom with us.

  • Nicole

    Why would you care if this woman thinks that you are weak or not? Are you weak? Do you feel weak? What a non-significant other thinks of you is irrelevant, only what you think of you really matters. Perhaps you are strong enough that you don’t feel the need to tread upon others, even when they tread upon you. You don’t have to lay down an take it, but you can be at peace and happy with who you are. :)

  • PBJ

    I’m not sure that calling someone ignorant is kind. Nor does being raised in the deep south make you, by geography, kind. I know many southerners who thrive on the polite backhanded slap, many of whom have perfected it to the point that their politeness almost thoroughly disguises their insult and judgement. Perhaps they assume because they are saying it with such politeness that they are being kind.

  • Ler

    Meeting rude person mean to train your patience. Sometime is hard to digest so choose to ignore it is better. The temple you went may be Hindu or Chinese traditional temple. May be is a challenges for us to endure or learn in other religious place. May you be well and happy. welcome to Malaysia ^^.

  • DS

    An eye for eye is not the way, but its hard to be in the situation and not get angry or revengeful.

  • a.harmony

    Thank you for sharing, Bree! You wear that blue dress again and again, until you can laugh off that crazy lady’s comments…because sometimes, people are just nuts! I mean really…who says that? “Your dress is ugly”?? Insults hurt when we let them for sure, and you were at a vulnerable state, open and in awe of a beautiful temple. Murphy’s Law states that someone had to come and rain on your parade, right?

    But if you were at the local Starbucks around the corner from your home and a stranger randomly came up to you and said, “Lady, I don’t like your teeth!”…what would you do? I hope you would laugh at the audacity and social awkwardness of such a person, and give them a nice show of those pearly whites! Sometimes a crazy is just a crazy, and they have no business getting anywhere near your precious and beautiful psyche.

    Perhaps the “lesson” was not for you to remember to be kind (because you are obviously very kind!), but to remember to defend your right to be happy and in awe of life, no matter what – or who – tries to trip you out of that state! By recognizing that someone is trying to ill-use us, and refusing to let it alter our beautiful states (giving them a good smile and maybe even a laugh that will pop their mean-balloon like a pin), we defend and strengthen our determination to be “in awe” all the time. What’s the lesson to that person? Well, it’s none of our business, is it? But I’d say to set the example of unwavering happiness and joy is a pretty powerful lesson to teach. Thank you again for sharing your story, Bree!

  • Meghan Hedrick

    Thank you so much for this. You have no idea what it means to me. :)

  • Dev Arbikshe

    Wow!

  • Lisa Alessi

    Hi Bree — no question experiences like this one are tough to process. I had a similar situation happen to me a couple of years ago and spent a great deal of time trying to absorb it through writing a blogpost: http://renaissancelearner.com/lessons-learned-from-a-pointed-finger Your reaction was absolutely natural to defend yourself, she violated your boundaries so there’s no need for guilt. Thank you for sharing your experience, it helps all of us prepare and hopefully move through situation like this with greater peace of mind.

  • Heather

    This is beautifully written. I have handled some situations similarly, also later wondering if I should have responded with MORE kindness. There have been some situations in my lie where I did respond in ways that made me feel proud of myself – with a balance of kindness and confrontation (holding a person responsible for their words/actions). I think that coming from a place of personal power is the most important thing, because it is caring for the self and speaking our truth. We don’t know (nor control) how the other person will react. There are people who will not care regardless of what we do or say. Others might, if they have any sort of conscience. Staying in our integrity is a priority for me. Figuring out where the boundaries of my integrity are, is the hardest part.

  • yayforadventure

    I love this article. I try to live by the motto “kill them with kindness”, but not actually kill anyone. haha. but the meaner people are to me, the kinder I try to be to them, hoping it will help them see the power in kindness.

  • DC

    I think it’s hard to stop and take a moment and realize everyone’s dealing with their own stuff. Not an excuse for this woman’s behavior but her comment was so out of any normal social bounds that I wonder if she were slightly “off”. Who knows, maybe she was on the autism spectrum or had some mental health issues. I’d bet she did. I rarely find people to be truly unkind without any motive unless there is something going on within-such as mental illness. At which point, it’s not unkind anymore and instead I feel empathy for their struggles.

  • Kindness Blog

    Beautiful article! :) Will share far and wide!
    http://www.kindnessblog.com

  • ds

    Tis is my first exoerience with tiny buddha,it is knowlegable n gud to read.hope will touch in cmng time.

  • LouiseSofia

    Hmmm… I do believe it is okay to let others know when enough is enough! A’ ‘No, it is not okay to keep having a go at me’ is in order! I lived in a relationship with Verbal abuse and it is just TOO painful if you keep allowing these abuses to happen. But I also know that we are all so very different and perhaps because of the learnings I had in that relationship, I am not letting anyone bully me anymore. I live my life in peace and harmony but no way, I am ever gonna allow anyone to verbally abuse me again! I always DO send love and light to the person, but if WE don’t stop them in their games of bullieng then who? And perhaps we are meant to meet them too, to give them a leraning about life! Said with deep love and respect for theirs and my Soul journey.

  • Lisyloo

    This is something I work on in myself but find it so hard to overcome the instinctive defensive response… sometimes I catch it and manage to employ a little more compassion, knowing the aggressor may just need something more positive, and that it’ll do nothing for my own mood if I react negatively… more often I get super-defensive and later regret my reaction. I do like your examples of simple acts of kindness such as compliments or notes, but I have to say that tipping is only appropriate in a tipping culture! It’s a very western things to hand over money and in a lot of countries I’ve lived in, it makes local people uncomfortable – the USA is a tipping culture, I come from Europe which is generally not, because the 2 regions have different pay systems, one requiring tip , the other not. Over the years I have spent many years in other lands including much time in Asia and have found that areas which are popular with American tourists have changed totally in their outlook as a result of the tipping which has been introduced. Even when it comes from a very well-meaning place it can be superior and inappropriate, and a smile and attempt at conversation is a far healthier happier interaction.

  • Laura Maldonado

    thank you Bree and I am also glad to meet you :)

  • Bree Barton

    LouiseSofia, kudos to you for living your life in peace and harmony—and I am so heartened to hear that you got out of that abusive relationship. NO ONE should have to suffer abuse, no matter what kind. Thanks for sharing your important message with deep love and respect, and for shedding light on other people’s journeys.

  • Bree Barton

    Hi Lisyloo,
    Thanks for your insight, especially on tipping culture—it’s true, I’d never want to give money to someone if it made him or her uncomfortable. And you’re so right: as soon as there’s an influx of Western tourists, all the old paradigms can quickly shift! I’m all for an honest smile and a warm conversation opener, because even when there are language barriers, people appreciate the attempt. Thanks again for sharing!

  • Bree Barton

    Thanks for sharing, ds! I hope you’ll be back many times.

  • Bree Barton

    Thanks so much, kindnessblog! You’re doing important work over there—I’ll share your link far and wide, too. Thanks again for the kind words!

  • Bree Barton

    DC, I definitely asked myself the same question. I ran through my list of ready-made labels to try and make some sense out of the exchange: Was she perhaps autistic or struggling with some other issue? She didn’t seem to be, but that’s where my own ego gets in the way, trying to judge (or label, or categorize) someone I don’t know. Thank you for bringing this up—regardless of the stuff she was dealing with, I think empathy is the only kind response. Thanks for reading!

  • Bree Barton

    Yayforadventure, yay for you! I DO believe that, the kinder we are to others, the more they see the power in kindness. I know I have been absolutely floored by the kindnesses people show me. You’re welcome to “kill me with kindness” any day! ;)

  • Bree Barton

    Heather, you’ve made me want to stand up and applaud this morning. I LOVE what you said: “a balance of kindness and confrontation” and “coming from a place of personal power.” Yes. YES. And I couldn’t agree more: defining the boundaries of our integrity is hard, and maybe constantly changing, depending on the situation. Thanks for such an astute and thoughtful comment; I really appreciate it. Happy to know I’m not alone in handling these sticky situations!

  • Bree Barton

    Thanks, Dev—wow yourself! :)

  • Bree Barton

    Hi Lisa—I just read your blogpost and it’s fantastic. “I was really good at sponging up other people’s dark clouds.” LOVE that. God knows I have certainly sponged up some dark clouds. I will definitely think about this next time someone dumps their anger on me. Thanks for writing about your experience so cogently and kindly. GRATITUDE on you!

  • Bree Barton

    True that, DS. I would love it if every day could be “kindness for kindness” instead!

  • Bree Barton

    A.harmony, I love this. Thank you. Thank you. You’ve reaffirmed my intention to set the example of unwavering happiness and joy—something you’re doing naturally, even by simply writing this comment. Thanks for the reminders that sometimes “crazy” has no business crowding in on our intrinsic joy (though it DOES give us further reason to be in awe, ha). You’re a wise one to wit!

  • Bree Barton

    Thank you, Ler! Malaysia was one of my most favorite places, really and truly. I’m grateful for the challenges and the “patience training,” as you so wisely put it. Thanks for reading Tiny Buddha!

  • Meeda

    Certain people are more prone to receiving insults and rejection – gingers and over-weight people are among them. What you experienced was a true hate crime. I’m sorry this happened to you.

  • Kindness Blog

    You’re very welcome and a thank you coming rightbackatcha! :)

  • Bree Barton

    I just bookmarked your wonderful blog. LOVE.

  • Bree Barton

    Thanks, Meeda. It hurt, no doubt about it. All of you lovely readers have been so overwhelmingly kind with your comments—I am truly grateful. You’ve already more than made up for any unkindness I received that day!

  • Some Girl

    I’m sorry, but this kind of thing happens every day in big cities. It sounds like you weren’t expecting it in an idyllic vacation paradise but, seriously, some people vacation in Chicago and New York, too. Maybe this woman is mentally ill. If something so small could give you such a big burden, you must have it pretty easy the rest of the time. I thought you were going to say that you got mugged or something. I’m glad that you weren’t.

  • Bree Barton

    Thanks, Some Girl—my best friend was mugged at knifepoint recently and it was no picnic. I am very sorry for all the men and women who have been victims of violence, and I hope you stay safe and well.

  • Lisa Alessi

    Thanks Bree — I felt a little funny responding with a blogpost but it was the only way I could think of to best convey my shared experience. Not sure if you’re familiar but a book that really changed the way I think about dealing with angry people was Anatomy of Peace – resolving the heart of conflict. Sending you lots of peace and gratitude right back!

  • Bree Barton

    Lisa—I just put a hold on Anatomy of Peace at my local library. Can’t wait to read. So happy to get a book recommendation AND your blog post; I’m a voracious reader! Thanks so much.

  • GopherButt

    I’m so delighted you shared this story, Bree, though I’m not glad you experienced the event. Your words of wisdom came at exactly the right time for me. This morning I was in a very happy place and someone took it upon themselves to “put me in my place.” I suspect that sometimes when one is happy and it radiates, it can cause an unhappy person to lash out purely as a rage or defensive act, because they believe it will make the painful-to-witness joy that is not their own go away.

    I’m not sure there ever is a right way to respond directly to an unkind person. I think each unkind person (like every unhappy family, as per Tolstoy) is unkind for their own reasons. Some may soften when approached with love, others not. And it is not necessarily your responsibility or destiny to ease that particular person’s suffering. The only for-sure right thing you can do is what you do for yourself, and for the world at large. Be kind to yourself, don’t internalize the negativity, and lavish the next person with extra love. Who knows, maybe it will armor them for THEIR next encounter with the unkind aspects of the world.

  • Bree Barton

    Amen, GopherButt. I am so sorry you were the victim of someone else’s anger this morning (I know the feeling). I’ll tell you exactly where “your place” is: that radiant, kind, warm, and thoughtful place you were in when you so generously posted this comment. I feel lucky, that I got to be the next person you lavished with extra love. Thanks for increasing my BLISS!

  • Donita

    You are quite judgmental for someone who is preaching kindness. So many perfect people in these comments. It would do all of us well to give each other a bit of leeway, instead of jumping in to tell them how they are wrong (and the irony is not lost on me).

  • salty

    A loving and kind script you have written ,I’m with you on your summation but how do we do it?, when our emotions get triggered by people ,places and things like these we ,I, seem to always go back to kind, as in fear, anger and retaliation or resentment .I try to kerb my instincts in these matters with differing results, what I have found is if I do react in a negative fashion I can always return and amend my behaviour., p.s some people are sick and need our prays ,love and help.

  • ToonForever

    That’s very interesting. I would have to disagree. I simply questioned the rather stark judgments of Mathematicaster, who had the aggressive woman’s attitudes, motivations, and personality all mapped out without ever meeting her. I simply pointed out that he did not leave himself open to the possibility that the woman was not a bulletproof lost cause.

    I *did* submit that a non-aggressive response would be preferable to his aggressive suggestion. I’m not sure he would disagree that the “stare” would be aggressive.

    But I’ll think on it anyway. Always time to learn. Cheers :)

  • Winifred Reilly

    Lovely piece with such an important lesson to not let our responses be dictated by another’s rudeness or suffering.

  • Bree Barton

    Thanks, Winifred! So glad you enjoyed it. Hope you’re having a lovely day!

  • Bree Barton

    Salty, I hear you. And that sickness can manifest in so many ways. I’m right there with you on the journey, trying to curb my instincts when my emotions get triggered (some times more successfully than others!). I love that I was able to write about the experience—it felt like a way to do exactly what you said: to return and amend my behavior. Thanks so much for reading and for your comment!

  • sheilam22

    Great – thanks for this – I will remember it next I am slighted.

  • tramadon

    You are so right. Once when I was in Seattle I was at a fast food restaraunt and the young woman behind the counter was being really rude and abrasive towards me and instead of getting angry I gave her the change I had received. She looked at me with a confused look and I told her it was tip for her. She changed instantly, and gave me a huge smile. “I have been having the worst day” she told me, and I knew right then that I had done a good thing.

  • Heather

    Thank you! It has always been my desire to strive for both peace AND justice in life and that itself is a delicate balancing act. (I’m an activist.) You said it well, too, and thanks for the feedback :) Yes, we do have to assess each unique situation with as much lucid perception possible, especially when we’re caught off guard or don’t have much time to react. I am glad knowing I’m not alone, either! I appreciate you!

  • Bree Barton

    Tramadon, I love that! What a great way to “kill with kindness,” as an earlier commenter said. I love that you completely changed that woman’s mood—and brightened her day. Thanks for brightening mine!

  • Bree Barton

    Glad to hear it, Sheila! Hope you’re having a great day.

  • tramadon

    Thank you!

  • Djaka

    Hi, I’m an Asian. I read your post here and have different thought. I thought that you should said thank you to the woman. As what we think what look good to us might not be good from other side view. If the person said your shirt was ugly maybe it wasn’t appropriate for the (holy) place, if that person said that your purse was dirty it might be that you need to wash and clean your purse. Maybe she’s an angel in a form of that woman to guard the temple, that want to warn you to dress properly and have your things clean before entering a temple… Who knows

  • Patrick Clancy

    I think it is freaking hilarious when a person takes such obviously out of place comments as some how being normal enough to deserve a normal response. It was not like her mother said this to her at age 13, Or her partner in life had said it. It was a lonely person obviously seeking to be noticed. She missed a perfect opportunity to talk back to her about how she stole the dress from a clothes line in the yard of motor cycle gang known for wearing bright blue wigs and carrying small dogs in baskets on their bikes when ever they come into town en masse to buy extra groceries for their weekly all you can eat potato salad lunches. Then after such a story offer to tell her about the time she climbed through her neighbors window while he was on the phone to turn off his tv so he could hear better.

    Then who would the crazy person be?

  • Tappinjj

    Bree Barton, you are perfection in my eyes. And if you are ever confronted again by circumstances such as this, just remind yourself that Tappinjj said “I’m Perfect”, as you are.
    Love, JJ

  • Bree Barton

    Hi Djaka—thank you so much for sharing your perspective. I like very much the thought that this woman is an angel, that she was preserving the sanctity and holiness of the temple. I really appreciate this kind and thoughtful point of view.

  • Bree Barton

    JJ, you made my day. I’ll keep it as my mantra today—”I’m perfect just as I am”—and I’ll keep looking at the J family as role models for how to share love and kindness in the world. Thank you.

  • TG

    I totally agree, and on reflection I regret not being strong enough to tell him to Stop. I know there is no excuse for treating another human being in the way he did treated me. I felt I was in a situation I couldnt physically get out of and was fearful any response would provoke him more. I did manage with all my might to tell him later that it wasnt ok and that ‘we’ are no longer ok. I am working on moving past and retaking control over my emotions. Thank you both for your encouraging words.

  • Lyla McLean

    Possibly the woman was mentally ill. I have bipolar disorder and blurt things when I’m ill for which i want to bite off my tongue later.

  • Lyla McLean

    Beautifully said.

  • chrisellis24@hotmail.ocom

    Hi Bree,
    Honestly that woman sounds like she was mentally ill and quite suppressive. She sounds like one who takes joy in inflicting pain. I have run into situations like that in the past and have had much the same reaction as you did.
    Your article was great because it makes me think to myself, what is really the best way of dealing with that? If we get angry, do we feed her addiction to the pain of others? If we give her kindness, well, that is a legitimate way of dealing with it but do we reward her for her psychopathic behavior?
    Personally I think the best way for me (it could be different for others) is to laugh uproariously and really enjoy it. Laugh until your sides ache.
    It is no light thing to intentionally inflict pain on others. The last thing someone like that wants is for you to experience pleasure and happiness.
    I cannot fault you for your reactions. I have reacted the same way. Next time, I’m gonna try this laughing thing. If it goes poorly, I’ll write you from the hospital and advise you against it.
    Great article! Sorry you had to experience that!
    XOChris

  • greatdane

    you probably just encouraged her

  • Jessica Laidlaw

    Personally I would have picked up the edges of my dress, done little twirl, smiled and bowed. And left.

    But maybe I’m petty.

    To be sure I think the woman in question is lost in her own battle. It is sad to imagine what living in her mind must be like.

  • Anna Lopez

    I have to agree with those who made comments regarding sociopaths. The “kind” responses assume that there is good in everybody and that everybody will be affected by your goodness. That someone being unkind is just having a bad day or had a rough childhood and you can make it better by being kind. The truth is, sociopaths are beyond being affected by either good or bad from others. And there are a lot of them out there these days.

    So it’s best to do what’s best for YOU, the recipient of the abuse. Whatever makes you feel good about yourself. If returning ugliness with kindness makes you feel peaceful, do it. If you feel stepped on and want (sometimes *need*) to stand up for yourself, give their sh*! right back to them. Or do neither, just smirk, shake your head and walk away. I often use this approach. It lets them know they didn’t knock you down, and much more importantly it lets YOU know they didn’t defeat you. This is often important, because when a sociopath smells blood they are like a shark…

  • Anna Lopez

    Reading over these responses I have to say I think it’s best to do whatever is best for YOU, the recipient, in these situations. Coming from a religious background, and from the deep South (LOL as someone else mentioned) I was taught to smile and be nice no matter what. To never fight back when someone was mean.

    Sorry, but this approach is not a one size fits all. Just because someone is unhappy does not give them the right to dump their hate and anger on others around them. Sometimes the best thing to do is draw boundaries and say No, you will not treat me this way, I won’t allow you to. Always being “kind” can leave people feeling walked on and abused. In a situation with a rude stranger, I think you should do whatever you need to do to help yourself at that instant. Some people have years of abuse they are trying to overcome. And are tired of being nice and getting walked on. So for some, a comeback of some sort might leave them feeling empowered in a healing way. For others, being kind might leave them feeling more empowered. It depends on where you are at personally. Don’t criticize someone for not doing it the same way you would.

  • ToonForever

    Just because it makes *you* feel better for the moment doesn’t mean it isn’t harmful to yourself and to others in the end.

    Speaking of winning and defeating is in itself an obstacle – a barrier. The other person isn’t someone to be vanquished. They’re another person who is dealing with their own problems, even if they’re sociopaths – itself a mental illness and a source of suffering for many.

  • Anna Lopez

    Obviously you do not understand the true nature of sociopaths. You cannot treat them or think of them as normal people because they very much are not. I have dealt with a few and they can be extremely destructive if you don’t guard yourself and protect yourself. You can’t just think of them as someone with problems. We all have problems. But, normal people don’t try to destroy others as a result of having problems.

    I am not necessarily speaking of the woman who called the dress ugly, I don’t know her and maybe she was just an immature person having a bad day, but her comment really sounded like one that a narcissistic sociopath would make. Again, they are not normal people and it’s not wise to think of them as such. How do you think crazies get away with the damage they do? A lot of it is because they play on the sympathies of naive people.

  • ToonForever

    It’s apparently not so obvious. Having worked for one for a couple of hellish years, I certainly do understand it, and read up on it at the time to understand it because it was so painful.

    But they are still people. They may not be normal, but that doesn’t make them not people.

    It does make me wonder why you feel responding with kindness is somehow being defeated or weak. It is anything but. How one deals with the confrontation is for one’s own well-being, whatever the issues the other party may have.

    From my own experience, lashing out and getting emotionally caught up and having to fight or “defeat” the sociopath is, quite often, simply playing their game. In the same way they have empathy for any feelings about their behavior, neither are they going to be moved by one lashing out at them.

    Responding with kindness and compassion doesn’t have to get through to them. It’s for one’s own peace and well-being.

  • Anna Lopez

    It’s hard to have these conversations online. We don’t know each other nor the situation. So we may not understand where the other is coming from.

    In a situation with a rude stranger, I think it is up to the individual how to respond. Being kind does not necessarily mean defeated or weak. That was not intended to be an across the board declaration. If a stranger made a rude comment about me in public I would probably just walk away. It’s not worth fighting about. I don’t presume to say what someone else should do.

    My comments about standing up and defending yourself are in reference to very different situations in which a lot of active abuse has gone on. Probably not productive for me to have even brought it up here. It’s like trying to compare apples and oranges, and over the internet at that. Oh well.

  • Anna Lopez

    You’re right Meghan it shouldn’t. I think we do what is best to protect ourselves in each situation and no one has the right to judge us as wrong. I notice people who read websites like this tend to be of the “let’s all hold hands and sing kumbaya” no matter what the situation, and that’s supposed to be the “right” answer.

    But the truth is sometimes we NEED to stand up against abusive people for our own self-respect. I’ll cite one example of a woman I used to work with who verbally abused me on a near-daily basis. I am a quiet type who likes to avoid conflict but there was no avoiding this aggressive, mean spirited woman. I finally snapped at her and let her know in no uncertain terms I wasn’t going to tolerate her abuse anymore. She left me alone after that.

    I guess it works for some people to kill these aggressive, rude people with kindness. That approach has never worked with me. I really think it depends on your personality. I do wish those who think no one should ever stand up and fight back, would quit judging those of us who think there are situations that do call for it. I say whatever works best for you.

  • Anna Lopez

    oh believe me PBJ, I live in the south and know about that all too well…

  • http://www.brickellprincess.com/ Brickell Princess

    Kindness? No baby, that woman was placed there to destroy the flow of energy that you were sensing, to destroy the positive energy that was flowing through you, to disrupt the beauty that you were magnifying into the world through your experience. People like that are placed on purpose. They serve the purpose of bringing and maintaining the darkness that is trying to take over the world(s). We call them people, you call her a woman, but in my life experience I have begun to wonder if these are in fact people or even humans.

  • Mims

    Hmmmmm, I needed to read something like this to lift my spirits. A colleague yelled at me this morning and I have been so unhappy about the incident, thinking of what I could have said in reply to the person. It takes a truly emotionally intelligent person not to respond fire for fire> that’s my goal

  • Kitty418

    Thanks, Bree. I was looking for a way to cope with a vicious e-mail I received this morning from someone I’ve never met or even spoken to. I had to quash my initial base instinct to “react” and attack back, which I knew wouldn’t be productive or represent who I really am as a person. I also sensed that, in his unhappy state of mind, he probably wouldn’t be willing to receive even a kind response. Any direct response would most likely only serve to perpetuate an unpleasant conversation, so I began thinking about paying it forward in a positive way. I agree that random acts of kindness to others in response to unkindness toward yourself is a pretty cool way of turning a negative into a positive. His cruelty reminds me just how important kindness is, and how the world needs more of it.

  • Alison

    I’d cheer her on for telling that woman to clean up her act. About what she said Bree, it’s no shame to you. I would guess that this woman suffers from some type of anger or social problem. Asperger’s perhaps? Kindness, well, she lacked it. Don’t take on someone’s anger at you, when this type of attack happens. It’s usually all about them and not you.

  • Alison

    Yes, I agree, when a cruel person is in their victims shoes it’s the only way they learn.

  • Alison

    He’s right. Serial bully or sociopath, she is on a path to hurt and destroy through her life. And she’s learned to hide it from everyone. Was anyone near to hear what she said to you? That’s why she said it, you were alone. I’ve had too much experience with this type of sociopath. See http://www.bullyonline.org for more info.

  • Alison

    They don’t think and feel the way we do. You’re so right Anna, I agree wholeheartedly!

  • Alison

    A sociopath takes kindness to them as weakness and they will exploit it. You, or anyone else, has every right to protect yourself from them! This is not about them being people, it’s about everyone else being safe.

  • Alison

    Might I say that we have a group split here? Apples on one side, looking at the spiritual realm of human interaction, and oranges on the other, looking at the psychology of human nature, and the consequences of our interactions.

  • Anna Lopez

    It sounds like you may have also had one of those life experiences where you know. You have to live it before you understand it. Good to know we’re not alone, thanks for writing Alison.

  • Anna Lopez

    As i just said to ToonForever, sociopaths see kindness as weakness and they will use any angle they can get to use it against you in some way. If you choose to be kind, just make sure it’s done in a way that they can’t use it to hurt you with later.

  • Anna Lopez

    Again, I see that you’ve lived it too, Alison. Hang in there… I’m hanging in there with you…

  • Melliefly

    The triumphs of being imperfect humans! It’s so challenging not to get defensive when someone starts to attack us. There is no right answer on how to handle such a situation, because every situation is different. Whether it’s our mood, or a real deep personal attack. There’s always plenty of opportunities to make things right through living new experiences. Recognizing that an initial negative response didn’t make anyone feel better about the interaction is a step in the right direction. Maybe it’s better to forgive ourselves first, and if at first we don’t succeed, try again!

  • J.M.P

    The way the women treated her was very unkind. I say “if you don’t have anything nice to say then, don’t say anything at all!” “Treat people the way you like to be treated” nd finally “If you can’t remember me with a smile, then don’t remember me at all!” meaning keep the criticisms to yourself!” I have been thru it! It leads to emotional abuse. So, keep ur trap shut! Other than that enjoy the love of life you have.

  • Mia

    I wish I could agree but I had always been kind to people who insulted me and those people continued to be unkind. This was very confusing as I was taught to be kind to my enemies. I thought that meant they would eventually be kind back. However, It wasn’t until i spoke back that they retreated.

    Now I feel as though if you are nice back you are “allowing” them their bad behavior. How will they learn if people are always kind and give them what they want? If they act abusive and we give them what they want won’t they always act that way?

  • Mia

    I have done that a few times with girls / women in school. Me: “I love your hair” Her: “Oh please, as if coming from you that means something”. I also tried ignoring them. Still got the evil looks.

    Then I stood up to them and they stopped. I have to add that some weren’t all that good looking themselves.However, I refrained from insulting them. I just said things like, “Yeah, that’s mature” or “Nice attitude Princess”. Next thing I know – my best friend was one of the most popular girls in school.

    Adults haven’t been much different and when I run into one I do try ignoring them but they just go on. When they are repeat offenders it’s time to say something. I cannot stand bullies.

  • madison34

    ToonForever how many times have you been verbally accosted?

  • ToonForever

    I don’t see that it’s relevant, honestly. Determining right action, or the most compassionate response, doesn’t automatically require specifically personal experience.

    That said, it’s happened to me on several occasions over my lifetime.

  • jodester

    *I ain’t sayin the commentary was justified in ANY way shape or form*. I am reactive, drawn to conflict myself and usually bite back clamoring for acerbic wit usually failing poory—because my evolution as a person is still crawling along so THERE IS THAT*. I do wonder though if that chick was doing it to expel her own demons or exists as an unconscious seriously hurt/damaged filterless free piehole blahblah blahblahblahblatherhead or was just backed up (rageaholic -needs a hug hourly) in not insulting enough people per week quota and baam! there you were her personified enema, or trying on her entitlement bcuz maybe she was an agreeable wallflower(??) & or writing a psych/sociology paper in the perfect unsuspecting holy environment by testing others aggressively with her verbal diarrhea.

    Terrific blog and experience you shared to remind us all how to navigate with some sweet tips ~ peace, J