Many a Bold Goal involves some form of self-improvement. Whether it’s to run a marathon, achieve something great or experience something few have, often–at the end of it all-we’re better versions of ourselves. But something self-improvement can mean much smaller changes. Sometimes, it can just mean being a kinder person.
When I was in my pre-teen years until well off into my adolescence, I was often misunderstood. My actions were seen as inauthentic. My words, shallow; my self-confidence as arrogance; and my friendliness as something akin to a hidden agenda to topple kingdoms. Okay, the last one may be a tad exaggerated. But even so, I was not that well-thought-of, to say the least—even to the point of being passive-aggressively bullied and avoided by people I barely knew like I was some 15th-century plague victim. Thankfully, a handful of people—mainly my family—were my anchor to ward off the temptation to wallow in depression or self-pity. It was during this time of hurting that I discovered the secret to becoming a kinder person. It was empathy. I had thought that if I were feeling this way, how much more were the people who didn’t have the same family as I had hurting? And that was the beginning.
There were a few lessons about empathy that helped me answer the question on how to be kinder to those who need it—even those who seem undeserving.
It Starts with Perspective
The secret to becoming a kinder person toward other people is empathy. Empathy is your ability to sense and share another person’s emotions or experiences by imagining what it would be like if you were the one living his life. So, when you put yourself in the shoes of another person, you are demonstrating empathy. Consequently, as you begin to understand and be attuned to another person’s feelings, you’ll naturally be kinder toward him.
According to studies, your tendency to be kind toward other people and empathy can be influenced by both your family genes and the environment. And one particular study says that individuals with genes that are apt to make displays of kindness and empathy are constant in their giving behavior no matter their current environment. Nevertheless, empathy can be developed. It just starts with perspective: If you sincerely wish to be a kinder person, then you’ll do what it takes to be one. In short, action usually follows perspective.
Four Practical Tips You Can Use In Your Kindness Pursuit
Now that you know that empathy is the secret to becoming a kinder person today, you can step up in your kindness game by applying these practical steps to help you improve your empathy levels. In truth, with improved empathy levels, you can be kinder even to the most difficult of people.
- Make it a habit to practice active listening. Make a mindful decision to listen and understand the person you’re conversing with—without interrupting, being defensive, or judging the person as he expresses his perspective and feelings. In other words, you enter a conversation with the purpose of genuine interest. And this step also means not jumping to conclusions about people around you; doing so will actually make you feel less empathy. By making active listening a habit, your empathy can increase (and even your relationship satisfaction will improve). Also, practicing active listening in itself is a kindness in itself.
- Interact with different people and look for common ground with them. It’s a given that each one of us is different from the person next to us. But there will always be at least one “shared experience”—whether good or bad—or one source of commonality. Perhaps you and your new co-worker like going to the same gym, or you both know what it’s like to lose someone to cancer. Seeing your common ground will help cultivate empathy toward that person. (Plus, it can also help you overcome distrust and fear!)
- Direct your attention outward. It’s time to stop solely focusing on yourself and start looking around. We increase our empathy levels when we actively imagine what someone else may be experiencing. So, practice being mindful of the things happening around you and the people surrounding you. By doing so, you’ll find yourself understanding more where people are coming from and thus be kinder toward them.
- Play board games with other people. According to neuroscience research, our brains create a “mental model” of other people’s intentions and thoughts when we compete with others. Not only will you be able to develop your relationship with the people you play with and have fun, but you’ll also get to stretch your mental muscles and boost your empathy in the process. And with boosted empathy comes the ability to become a kinder person to your neighbor.
A Word of Warning
You may be pumped right now in your pursuit of becoming a kinder person. But I have to point out that your kind acts or displays of kindness will not always be taken in the same spirit that it is given. Some may think you’re just out to get something in return or that you’re just too-friendly-that-I-need-to-keep-my-distance-from-you type of person. Since everyone has had different experiences in life, it is only natural that you encounter both positive and negative reactions. The bottom line is that you have the choice to be understanding and kind regardless of whatever people throw at you.
Becoming a Kinder Person in 2020
Yes, it is sad yet true that this world is changing for the worse by the second and by the day. But on the upside, we all still hope for a better tomorrow. So, now that we’re trekking through the beginning of the year (Here we go, 2020!), it would be good to re-evaluate our lives and outlook in life. Perhaps you’ve become cynical and jaded on how you view others. Or perhaps you’ve given up on the idea of living a bold life. No matter where you are, you can start anew this moment and live a bold life by being kind—or a bolder life by being kinder.
This year, aspire to be the type of person each one of us needs—a sort of “kindness ambassador” who’ll be there to understand and listen. You never know: You may be helping someone, a friend or stranger, gain his faith in humanity back. Wouldn’t that be nice?