4 Ways to Be Kind When You Don’t Feel Like It

“Be kind, for everyone you meet is fighting a hard battle.” ~Plato

I used to have a horrible boss.

I worked as a trainer in a big corporation. I can remember him coming into one of my training sessions and telling me off about something in front of my whole group.

He talked to me as if I was five years old and I’d done something terrible. When someone talks to you like that it’s difficult not to start feeling you are five years old and you’ve done something terrible. I wanted to sink into the ground.

He treated other people badly, too. He frequently criticized people and talked down to them. He set unreasonable deadlines. He didn’t trust us to get on with our jobs.

Plato suggests that we be kind, for everyone we meet is fighting a hard battle.

Some people are very easy to be kind to.

If my friend is having a bad time in her relationship, my instinct is to call her and ask her if she’s OK. If we see an elderly person trip over on the street, our instinct is to go over and see if we can help them up. It is easy to be kind.

But what about my boss? Was I kind to him? And why should I be kind anyway?

At the time, I wasn’t kind to him at all. I talked about him behind his back with my colleagues, describing all the terrible things he’d done. I encouraged people to gang up against him.

When we were given an opportunity to give him feedback, I said something very critical about him in front of his own boss.

It’s easy to be horrible to horrible people. They deserve it, don’t they?

Do they?

Since working for this man, I have learned a lot about myself and about others. I’ve learned that horrible people usually do horrible things because they are hurting.

In my own experience, when I say something horrible it’s because I don’t feel good about myself.

Yesterday, when my boyfriend was cooking, I criticized the way he was chopping the carrots. The tone of voice I used implied that what he was cooking was going to taste really terrible as a result. He was ruining the meal. It was the worst mistake he could ever make.

I did this because I’d had a bad morning. I’d had several rejections, and I needed to feel better about myself. If I could focus on how rubbish he was at cooking, then maybe I could forget about being a rubbish writer. My nasty comment came from my own hurt.

Sometimes, this process can be very subconscious. We won’t know why we’re being mean or angry or greedy or jealous—we’ll just do it. And then we’ll probably justify ourselves by pretending that it was entirely the other person’s fault.

He was cutting the carrots wrong! That gives me the right to criticize him, doesn’t it?

Sometimes a person can’t afford to acknowledge how horrible they’re being, because, deep down, they already feel terrible about themselves.

If our self-esteem is already a bit shaky, then the last thing we want to do is take responsibility for our mean words. I didn’t want to be a rubbish writer and a rubbish, criticizing girlfriend.

My boss was also fighting a hard battle. He’d just joined the company. He was much younger than any of the other managers. He was struggling to make sense of the financial products we were selling.

We were a strong team, full of strong personalities and lots of experience. We were pretty challenging.

When I look back, I guess that deep down he had grave doubts about his ability to do the job. I don’t know if he would have admitted this to himself or anyone else, but this deep-down-insecurity makes sense of his need to push other people about, to bully them, to criticize them, to tell them off in front of other people.

If I could go back to that time, I would look at him with more compassion. I still wouldn’t like him. I still wouldn’t like his behavior.

But I would remember, whenever I could, that he was fighting a hard battle. I didn’t know anything about his home life, his insecurities, his demons. Looking back, he didn’t seem like a happy man.

So how can we try to be kinder to people, especially when we don’t feel like it?

1. Try to notice when you feel the need to be unkind to someone.

If it’s too late and you’ve already said something mean, then complete the following steps anyway and you might learn something for next time. It might also give you an opportunity to apologize to the person you’ve been unkind to—“I know I was angry about what you’ve done, but I shouldn’t have said what I said. I’m sorry.”

2. Ask yourself why you are feeling an urge to be unkind.

Is it because you’ve had a bad morning, or because you’re feeling hurt or insecure? Is it because the other person has said something that has made you angry or upset?

3. If you want to be unkind because you’ve been hurt or you’re feeling insecure, then acknowledge the part of you that feels hurt.

Try to deal with this without taking it out on somebody else. Be kind to yourself.

4. If you want to be unkind because the other person has said something horrible to you, then you can do two things:

Try to make sense of why you feel so hurt. Did what the person said to you have a grain of truth in it, or are you afraid that it might? Is this why it upset you or made you angry?

Remember that the other person is fighting their own hard battle. They might have had their own terrible morning/week/life. You’re just unlucky that they’re taking it out on you. If what they’ve said to you doesn’t feel personal any more, it will have much less power to affect you.

A final note: I don’t think that being kind to everyone means that we have to be a push-over. If someone is behaving horribly, we don’t have to put up with it.

We need to remove ourselves from the situation, or report their behavior to someone else, or find some other way of looking after ourselves.

My boss’s behavior wasn’t OK. He did speak to me like I was five years old, and if I could go back in time I’d tell him calmly that I didn’t appreciate the way he spoke to me like that in front of my group, and that next time I’d prefer him to take me aside and let me know I’d done something wrong in a calmer voice.

But I think of him differently now. He was a horrible boss. But he was also a human being, struggling to get through life with all his insecurities and fears and problems. He was fighting his own hard battle.

He also deserved my kindness.

Photo by adrielsocrates

About Fiona Robyn

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  • Interesting post. I spend a lot of time thinking about horrible people and how to deal with them. My main worry is that even though I do view them in a similar way to this, that still doesn’t do anything to stop them ruining things for me. In the example you gave, your boss ruined that training session you were responsible for. I guess that’s a separate issue, one of things that are in and aren’t in your control.

  • Rose

    I love this article. Your article are so timely, and seem to coincide with my current state of mind.
    They always cause me to stop and reconsider This is a perfect example of a work issue. I will send love and well wishes as I know I should. why?? We are all connected and love is always the answer.

  • Ressdogg

    great read! thanx for that!

  • Spaceman

    I never knew there was a wrong way to cut carrots. Learn something new every day. 🙂
    Thanks tiny Buddha, for always sharing a little wisdom.

  • Great post. This reminds me of a trick for anyone who is an emotional eater to HALT when they are about to eat food and recognize if they’re Hungry Angry Lonely or Tired. The same can be said before gossiping or getting angry or treated someone badly. Are you Angry Lonely, Tired, Stressed? Then the anger you are feeling might not really be anger at all towards a particular person.

  • Great Post! 🙂

  • Very wise. And I think it’s often the people to whom it is most difficult to be kind who need our kindness the most.

  • Yogalife11

    It takes a wise and strong person to look at our own behavior and be honest with ourselves to do what is best. Great article and thanks for sharing.

  • Beautifully said, Fiona. Thank you.

  • All – thank you so much for your comments. So pleased that the article resonated for some people.
    Spaceman – you got me ; ) no such thing….
    Miss Britt – thank you – isn’t it difficult to remember that when someone is being mean to us though?!
    Joanne – an interesting question. I suppose maybe it would have been less ‘ruined’ if I’d felt more confident about what I was doing, then my boss just looks like an idiot ; ) it only really got to me because I did still worry about getting it wrong or being a terrible trainer. But yes, sometimes I suppose it’s a matter of changing the things we can, accepting the things we can’t, and finding the wisdom to work out the difference….

  • Angela Gunn

    I feel like I wrote this! This is exactly what I experience everyday at work and it’s very difficult to deal with well. I am much better at taking the risk of confronting my boss and showing that their way of acting is unacceptable, but I speak very carefully when I do so in order that I don’t hurt them in return. This in turn shows they cannot get away with speaking unkindly to me again, without a confrontation and tends to stop the cycle. I have to be very careful to keep my heart open while all this takes place otherwise I just shut off and it’s much easier to go away and gossip about the person or say hurtful things about them. In doing this I’m really only hurting myself though.
    Great post! Thanks 😀

  • Probably the best wisdom of the month! 😀

  • Alvin

    I always try to keep in mind that everyone has bad days, and sometimes, those bad days extend to weeks, months, maybe even whole years.

    I guess it sounds silly, but it gives me a point of relation. I know when I’ve had a really bad day, I can be a rotten, negative person and an all-around unlikeable fellow, despite my normally friendly demeanor.

  • This is the main lesson I learned last year when I was trying to save my marriage. I was in such an indescribably horrible place and I just started to notice how the smallest kindness from others (even strangers… sometimes ESPECIALLY strangers) could make my whole day. I also started reading When Things Fall Apart by Pema Chodron, and it really spoke to me at that very raw point in my life. Basically, the enormous amount of pain I was feeling just really showed me how likely it is that many other people I encounter every day are going through something similar at any given time. The least I could do was soften so that I could be as compassionate to others as I wanted them to be to me. Honestly, that lesson has changed my life. I try to wish every single person I encounter well or do something to show them a kindness, whether it’s just smiling, listening intently, giving a compliment or anything else I’m able to do.

    It’s especially difficult in a work situation to be the lone person in a group who stands up and says “maybe there’s a reason that person is acting that way, and I’m going to be as compassionate as I can to them” when the whole department is ganging up on someone. It’s so easy to just dismiss someone who is acting like a jerk, or to join the group in bitching about them behind their back. I have often stood up for people at my job who are ganged up on, and it creates stress for me but I refuse to just have a “hive” mentality and go along with it because everyone else does. I feel like everyone deserves a basic amount of respect just as a fellow human being.

    Even through the process of my divorce, when my estranged husband would do something horrible or say something hurtful, I always kept in mind that it was coming from a place of extreme pain, similar to what I’d felt the year before. As Fiona said, I didn’t *excuse* what he did or said, but that outlook allowed me to separate the behaviour from the normally kind person I know he is under better circumstances. I also didn’t allow myself to take it personally, which was extremely important.

    I truly feel that focusing on being kind to others (even if they have hurt us) is one of the most important lessons we can learn. It makes such an unbelievable difference and it’s one small step in spreading positivity outward to all beings, which in the end can only benefit the whole planet.

    Fantasic piece, Fiona! Thank you so much for this reminder.

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  • Thank you all for reading and for taking the time to post comments. Always a pleasure to be published on Tiny Buddha : )

  • Fiona.

    “To penetrate the hardest armor, use the softest touch.”
    ~ Haven Trevino

    This quote reminds me of the hard shells of protection, defensiveness, and fear that so many people, including some colleagues, carry around. And your post reminds me of the need to share kindness, even when we are not feeling kind. Connecting our human wholeness in the workplace remains a challenging yet essential piece of our lives if we want to live in integrity and authenticity.

    Thanks so much for your post.

  • “the need to share kindness, even when we are not feeling kind” – exactly, Susie. And I love the quote. Thank you for reading, and for commenting.

  • A very interesting and perceptive article. Having been there, it’s very hard not to let such behaviour undermine your own self worth and to absorb the anger they direct at you into yourself. Your approach offers ways of breaking this cycle and detaching yourself to stand back

  • Thank you for reading, Linda. Yes, not always easy….

  • Great article thanks for the sharing with us….

  • .

    Reminds me of a boss I had too, I just felt he was compensating for being shorter than me but perhaps there were more issues than just being insecure due to being short. His treatment of me did add to my huge low self-esteem and I was in such a rush to leave I ended up working for someone worse, who sacked me after 6 months.

  • This reminds me of T. Harv Eker saying over and over that how people react to us is far more about them than it is about us. And you are so right about hurtful behavior being driven by pain. Thanks for putting this truth in front of us, Fiona!

  • I have actually gained a lot from reading this and if more of us did this today the world would perhaps be a nicer and more forgiving place.  We are all on a path to the ultimate destination but it i how we follow that path that counts.  

  • Looked


  • Looked


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  • This is EXACTLY what I needed to read today. Many thanks for posting!  

  •  Thank you Fiona, for knocking into my head!

  • N. Antonio

    Every good and bad points of the situation was discussed. Which is one way to acknowledge  what happened, and  the wrong way to react from negative criticism and a positive one

  • Nimrod Christ Nimrod, Ph.D.

    Ephesians 4:32″And be ye KIND one to another, tenderhearted, forgiving one another, even as God for Christ’s sake hath forgiven you.”

  • Carlie_star

    hes i did enjoy this post very much thankyou 

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  • Hector

    I think I’m kind to everybody that’s kind to me. While I understand the concept proposed here, it arouses huge resistance within. How can you act kindly to someone who doesn’t show you respect? Again, I understand it in concept but just don’t see how would you actually handle a situation like this, how can you be kind without letting the offender walk all over you?

  • Amelia30

    It is really hard trying to be kind to someone who has been mean and hurtful towards you. I’ve recently received lots of negative feedback and hurtful behaviours from family of my husband – particularly his sister.

    This is really hard, I can’t avoid her and then find it really hard being kind to her when I see her especially when she always makes covert comments toward myself that are hard to challenge…

    I still try every time to ignore comments and gossip she says but it’s sooooo hard 🙂

  • Bstrick420 Bs

    Hey, I like the way your able to be kind even when others aren’t. I’m the person that is rude, mean, angry, & don’t care if I hurt others. I’m so not proud of this! Im not sure but I believe a long history of being sexually molested as a child, & having kids young has made me stressed, angry, & mean 🙁 I feel I’ve lost my self along the way , i’m bitter & have resentment . My husband is really wanting me to start being nice & forgiving but I honesty don’t know where to start??????? I don’t have friends, I don’t care what people think of me. & I try my hardest to keep people out of my heart in fear they will hurt me. I don’t TRUST but 2 people in my life my dad, & aunt 🙁 my husband has never been unfaithful or done me wrong & I don’t trust him ! Why am I so cold & mean? Can I break this cycle? I’ve been depressed for years, I use to be a knock out beautiful, now i’m fat & don’t do anything about it. Anyone here have advice or anything that may help me please please help me I have no one to talk to but my hubby & i’m sure he is sick of talking to me about this! I wanna change I wanna be better just need a where to start, i’m so LOST in my hate… My email is

  • <3 I'm emailing you.  You can talk to me.

  • Christian Murray

    This is a fantastic story, a great outlook on life.

  • Mr. Compassionato

    I agree with everything you said. It makes me shed a tear or two. I acted like your terrible boss too. I hope people would forgive me. Lovely article.

  • Theus

    Isn’t being kind to someone you don’t want to be kind to called being insincere?
    There are many people I will refuse to waste kindness on.

    Why not ask yourself this?
    What if the shoe was on the other foot and THEY were in a position of power would they be kind to you?

    Kindness comes from sincerity.
    Niceness does not.
    This sounds like an article on how to be ‘nice’ which is what my mother told me to never do because it is insincere.

  • Theus

    Also, its not your responsibility to take on anyone else’s burdens even if they are hurting.
    That’s their issue, and they need to respect you, and learn how to deal with their issues as we all do. It’s not fair to you to have to tapdance to their beat because their whittle feewingss are huurt.

    Go to the hood and try this shit.

  • Jammy Jackson

    The truth is some people are that way because they are self-involved, inconsiderate and selfish- I don’t think you should be kind to be everyone. Just be neutral and if you are seen as ‘unkind’ let it be. I hate those pretentious people who are just nice to your face.

    Nice people are usually the worst kind of people-the hypocrites, and two-timers. At least in my experience.

  • Tryingtogrowup

    Thanks for sharing!!! I needed some insight about being kind to people because of late, it has been a challenge for me to be kind to others. I become so tired of rude and insecure people (especially at my job0 I began to behave a bit hostile towards them, and I don’t feel so good about it. Thank you!

  • Thank you. More thought, less talk.

  • Coolman1234`

    I had this co worker we work for the same Railroad Company as Train Conductors we have worked the same trains on more than one occasion when I first met her I had a crush on her she was hired before me then it is like she uses a girlfriend voice then for while she just being nice to me then she treats me like crap. I was upset with after that never spoke to her again we still working at the same Railroad. A while later she smiles at me acting like nothing happened. I was still upset with her I am still mad at her I still dont speak to her at all. Does it mean she is toying with me? Or she just teasing me?


    “My Old Man”: The mistake we make is thinking our parents will change.

    What can I start doing today
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    But that’s life and if they really cared as much
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    For a man, his is judged by
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  • Sophie4

    Please don’t be bitter on what happened to you. It also happened to me, and I had a mother that was not smart enough to see it wasn’t my fault, I was 7 yrs. old. All she cared about is what SHE went through when it happened. She said terrible things to me and so did my older sister. It stopped after a couple of years, the badgering. I will never forget the depression and shame. I am now going on 60 yrs. old, I am very sensitive when people say or do unkind things to me. All I want to do is go cry. Then I feel this very strong need to get EVEN!! I want to hurt the person back…not physically but by just not seeing them again. Or sometimes I’ll just blow up and tell them what a piece of crap they are!! He he. I am really a very loving person, I love deeply, I have a wonderful husband, but a few nasty in laws that really go out of their way to hurt me. I don’t know why, but they do…my husband will witness it sometimes and does not defend me. In fact they, the in laws are the only time we argue!!! I have just decided to not say anything to them about the last upset and just stay away from them for a long time. I think it’s the best plan, and let myself forget a little. I don’t want to be a bitter person. But I know how you must feel. Yesterday on Valentines Day I stayed in my room all day, away from my husband, whom I called a coward the evening before. For just sitting there while a member of his family yelled out…why don’t you just buy an apron. I had made an apron and even embroidered his name on it, for my husband brother. I was crushed!!!! So people are cruel, I will never know why this family member said this. But this is the kind of thing that is happening all the time within this family. So somehow I’ve got to Belly up and just let out one Big loud insane laugh because when you’re dealing with crazies…you yourself have to BE CRAZY! Ps I know what you mean about being lost in your hate…we have to be careful, it’s going to swallow us up. I go to a gym…I too was quite cute, but I need to lose. The gym helps me not only with my figure but my stresses. It’s $80.00 a mo. And worth every penny. Try it my friend…EXERCISE YOUR ANGER OFF and love yourself please.

  • Yazzy

    Thanks for this, I really needed some justification for being nice to people as horrible as that sounds. I appreciate the deep reflection. I’ve been like this for a as long as I can remember, and i’m glad to have a starting point where I can try and find some happiness within.

    I’m only 20 years old, but still, very bitter.

  • emily

    im doing this 4 ma mum

  • Eva E

    I enjoyed your article, and it’s so true. You never know what others are going through. My husband and I are taking care of his dad while he is dying from cancer. I have noticed that my husband is short with everyone lately and I have wondered if I have been doing the same. I decided to make a real conscious effort to be kinder to others, whether it’s co workers or strangers, because I thought they could be going through the same thing we are. Sometimes it’s easier to make everyone around you miserable because you feel miserable, but that’s no way to go through life. Although things are difficult right now, others don’t know that this is what’s happening and I don’t want to be responsible for making somebody else feel badly, especially if I can just decide to smile and tell them they look nice or something.

  • Eva E

    Good for you not going with the crowd at work to gang up on others. I hate hearing people at work talk about each other and then when that person walks into the room they act like it’s their best friend. It’s high school behavior and something I refuse to go along with.

    I enjoyed reading your story. If more people thought this way and made little efforts every day to be kinder, the world would be better.

  • whoami

    Be kind to those who maltreat you? I found this post when I search “How to be kind” on google. Being a kind person, one who can uplift others is a goal of mine. But to treat those who’ve blatantly used, neglected and, abused you – whether it be out of sheer malice or as a coping mechanism for their own troubles, is a path I regret. I wish, I wish dearly, that I told those people to fuck off and leave me be. But I didn’t, I never did. I tolerated them. Sometimes I tried to understand them. This was easier when I was younger. Now I’ve grown older and tired, and my capacity for caring and empathizing has faded. I wish I saved my compassion for those that deserved it. It was not a matter of being kind, it was a matter of being afraid. To stand up for myself would perhaps be unkind to my boss, but it would be kind to myself and my coworkers. Some people, sometimes, need to be told to fuck off. Sometimes a person deserves much more than that. I wish I were more courageous, I wish I recognized my worth and was kinder to myself.

  • Karthik

    What if the person reacts in a same way even after you tell him that he is not doing things in a correct way. I mean your boss continue to treat you as 5 year old before everybody even after you told him several times in a calm voice . That is the problem. Some people never change. It would be great if there is a solution to face these kinds of people in a kind manner. Thanks.

  • chelsea

    I need help… I’m only 22 and I don’t know where to start. I feel I’ve tried everything… But my… relenting hate comes back twice as strong everytime. 🙁 I need a fresh ear, someone who understands or has experienced something similar. Email me. 🙁

  • barnraised

    Love this. And needed to read it today. Thank you.

  • Gregory

    Great post. Stress in one form if other often causes people to be unkind. Learning to not take it personally and understand that people behave the way they do because of their own issues, perspective and state of mind can really help you forgive and accept other people’s bullshit. It’s hard though especially if someone else’s behaviour has stressed you out.Thanks for sharing.

  • Gregory

    Please don’t give up hope. You can change. I did. You’ll never fully trust but you can learn to like people. Keep your expectations low, and do nice things in baby steps. When you see how rewarding it can be you will be encouraged to do more. We are all more alike than disimilar. You will find what you look for in people. I wish you all the best.

  • James Wang

    If I said/did something unkind to another AND admit it, I’d say something like, “What I said to you this morning was unkind. I apologise.”

  • David

    Always treat other people well, unless they have treated you badly.

  • Jimmy

    Be nice to people

  • MissAlice

    Thank you 🙂

  • Hellen Damnation

    Great advice for the chronically abused . . . wait . . . Social contract is dead! Society has taken a huge and ugly shift. Selfishness and entitlement are the way today. Anyone who stands in the way with their lovely flowers will get mowed down quickly. Why I mostly stay away from people these days unless I have no choice.

  • Hellen Damnation

    “Banned by wang guard”? Really “Tiny Buddha? Really? Ironic a website called “tinybuddha” has such a stringent sign up criteria. I guess my desire to sign up for an official account created my own suffering. . . what a crock! $$$$$ page hits – not from me anymore.