“I’ve learned that people will forget what you said, people will forget what you did, but people will never forget how you made them feel.” ~Maya Angelou
I’ve now reached the age in my life when every so often, I get an email or text informing me that someone I know has died. Some of the people who have passed away have been former supervisors or teachers from high school. Others have been the parents of friends or elderly members of my church.
At one time, the news that someone had died was shocking to me. Now it’s nearly a monthly occurrence, and I’ve become accustomed to it.
Whenever I receive one of these texts or emails, I always go in search of the obituary. This may sound macabre, but I love a good obituary. I like to learn what people chose to do with this one life that they were given. I particularly like the obituaries in which you get a sense of who the person was. Aside from their accomplishments, what was that person really like?
Because the reality is that your accomplishments aren’t what will have mattered most about your life. Instead, what matters about your life is how you made people feel, as so aptly put by Maya Angelou. Another way of putting it is this: Were you kind to others?
Why does kindness matter so much? Because kindness is the only real way to change the world for the better. For example, I can give you $20, and you can use that to buy one meal. Certainly, that is a nice gesture.
But what if I encourage you? What if I take the time to specifically identify your gifts and talents? What if I explain to you that you have the ability to do great things with your life? Then my kindness potentially has changed your life.
Kindness is powerful. In fact, being kind is the most important thing that we do in life.
Below are ways to start incorporating kindness into your daily life. If you make kind acts part of your daily routine, you’ll end up being someone who changes the world in the most beautiful way.
To Be Kind, Be an Encourager
We live in a very critical world. Sadly, people are quick to criticize, and they are reluctant to offer praise. Given the harshness of our world, it’s no small wonder that so many people lack confidence in themselves.
Kind people are our only hope to fight the world’s negativity. That is because kind people encourage others. They are the type of people who go out of their way to comment when someone does something well. And they readily point out others’ gifts and talents.
But realize that encouraging others is something that we have to intentionally choose to do. For example, often a complimentary thought will float through my head. “Her hair looks great today.” Or “That was a terrific presentation.” But unless I catch myself, that idea will float out of my head just as quickly as it floated in! As a result, I try to make an effort to say those complimentary thoughts out loud whenever I can.
Realize that being an encourager has to be a conscious choice. Otherwise, those complimentary thoughts will just stay inside our brains. And the other person won’t benefit from those precious words of encouragement.
So choose to be kind by choosing complimenting over criticizing. Build others up instead of tearing them down. If you do, you’ll make the world a far more pleasant place to be for everyone.
Be Helpful in the “Right” Way
Most of us strive to be helpful. After all, that is what good people do—we help others! But the problem is that so often we help others in the wrong way.
For example, I learned many years ago that to be a good mother, I had to help my daughter in the ways that she wanted help.
The issue came to the fore one day when her room was messy. I thought I would help her out by tidying it up. Later that day, she returned home from school and wanted help with her homework. However, by that point, I felt worn out because I’d already cleaned up her room. She then said to me, “But Mom, I can clean up my own room. I didn’t ask you to do that for me. What I need help with is my homework.”
She was right. That moment was a turning point for me. I tend to think that I know what is best for everyone! But after that experience, I came to realize that even if I think I know best, I need to help others in the ways that they want help.
Because if you help people in the way that you think is best for them, you aren’t respecting them. You effectively are saying, “I know better than you what you really need.” And that attitude diminishes people.
So part of being kind to others is helping them in a respectful manner. If you want to want to help someone (or give them a gift), find out what that person wants. You aren’t being truly kind and helpful if you simply help them in a paternalistic fashion in which you convey that you know best. Instead, be kind by helping others in the right way.
To be Kind, Choose Compassion Over Judgment
Unfortunately, it’s human nature to judge others. After all, how often do we walk by a homeless person and think, “That person needs to get a job!” Or we may have a family member with an alcohol addiction, and we’ll say, “For heaven’s sake, just stop drinking! Pull your life together.” Or we may have a child who is failing math, and we’ll tell the child, “These bad grades are your fault. You need to study more and stop goofing off.”
But being kind means offering compassion, even when it is oh so easy to judge. I find that the best way to avoid the “judgment trap” is to say this to myself on a regular basis: “But for the grace of God go I.”
What that means is that some of us get lucky in life. We may have been blessed with a stable upbringing, or with good genetics. Or we may have been born with a gender, skin color, or nationality (or all three!) that simply makes our lives a lot easier than other people’s lives.
Given that some folks are just dealt a better hand in life than others, it makes sense that we should interact with people who are struggling by coming to them from a place of compassion rather than judgment. Our attitude should be “I’m so sorry that you are suffering. Let’s figure out a way to fix this situation.”
I’ll concede that it is frustrating when people make big mistakes that negatively affect our lives and the lives of others. Nevertheless, be kind. Remember that to be kind means to be compassionate, even when it is so much easier to judge.
Value Kindness Over Being Right
Years ago, I hosted a family gathering in which there was a heated argument about politics. Angry words were said. People insulted each other. And everyone left the gathering feeling terrible.
What was particularly stupid about the whole thing was that the argument was pointless. Not one of us worked in politics. And not one of us had any sway over politics outside of our one vote in each election. So we didn’t change the world by arguing. We simply damaged our relationships with each other.
I’ve had a similar experience when it comes to discussions about other hot button topics, like religion. For instance, I happen to go to church. Now, I never try to inflict my religious views on anyone. Rather, I consider religion to be a deeply personal matter.
Yet, every so often, I’ll receive a snide, insulting remark about my religious faith from people who are atheists or agnostics. I choose not to argue back when I hear those remarks, but I always think to myself, “What was the point of that remark? How did that remark make the world a better place?”
Realize that problems arise when we are more concerned about being right than we are about being kind. Of course, there are times when we need to voice our concerns. For instance, we should always speak up when we see someone being treated unjustly. But that is different from demanding that others see the world in the exactly same way that we do.
To treat others with kindness, we have to be willing to agree to disagree. We can’t bully others into our point of view. Instead, we have to value being kind over being right.
If you really want to change the world, the simplest thing you can do is be kind. Be kind consistently. Strive to be kind, even when you don’t feel like it. Be kind because it is the easiest thing that you can do to make the world a better place.
About Meerabelle Dey
Meerabelle Dey has a B.A. in History and Religious Studies from the University of Toronto and a J.D. from Fordham University School of Law. Much of her legal career was spent dealing with issues affecting women, children and the poor. She has lived in the United States, Canada and the Middle East. Meerabelle now devotes her time to writing. Her mission is to help people create a life that they find personally rewarding and meaningful. You can follow her at Create A Great Life.