If you really want to change the world: 4 ways to be kind

“I’ve learned that people forget what you said, people forget what you did, but people will never forget how you made them feel.” ~ Maya Angelou

I’m now at the age in my life where I occasionally get an email or text message letting me know that someone I know has died. Some of those who died were former high school supervisors or teachers. Others were the parents of friends or older members of my church.

Once the news that someone had died shocked me. It’s almost a monthly event now and I’ve gotten used to it.

Whenever I get one of these texts or emails, I always go looking for the obituary. This may sound macabre, but I love a good obituary. I like to learn what people wanted to do with this one life that was given to them. I especially like the obituaries where you get a sense of who the person was. Aside from their accomplishments, what was this person really like?

Because the reality is that your achievements will not have been the most important thing in your life. Instead, what matters in your life is how you make people feel, as Maya Angelou so aptly put it. In other words, have you been nice to others?

Why is kindness so important? 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 it to buy a meal. That’s a nice gesture, of course.

But what if I encourage you? What if I take the time to specifically identify your gifts and talents? What if I tell you that you have the ability to do great things with your life? Then my kindness may have changed your life.

Kindness is powerful. In fact, kindness is the most important thing we do in life.

Below are ways to incorporate kindness into your daily life. When you make acts of kindness a part of your daily routine, you end up becoming someone who changes the world in the most beautiful way.

Be kind, be an encourager

We live in a very critical world. Unfortunately, people are quick to criticize and hesitant to offer praise. Given the harshness of our world, it’s no wonder so many people lack confidence.

Kind people are our only hope to fight the negativity of the world. This is because kind people encourage others. They’re the kind of people who go out of their way to comment when someone does something well. And they readily point out the gifts and talents of others.

But realize that we must make a conscious choice to encourage others. For example, a flattering thought often crosses my mind. “Your hair looks amazing today.” Or “That was a great presentation.” But if I don’t find myself, that idea will slip out of my head just as fast as it came in! As a result, I try to make an effort to say these supplemental thoughts out loud whenever I can.

Realize that being an encourager must be a conscious choice. Otherwise, these complementary thoughts just stay in our brain. And the other person will not benefit from those precious words of encouragement.

So choose to be kind by choosing compliments over criticism. Build others up instead of tearing them down. When you do that, you make the world a much nicer place for everyone.

Help in the “right” way

Most of us strive to be helpful. After all, that’s exactly 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 in order to be a good mother, I needed to help my daughter the way she wanted help.

The problem came to the fore one day when her room was messy. I thought I would help her clean up. Later that day she came home from school wanting help with her homework. However, by this point I was feeling exhausted because I had already cleaned her room. Then she said to me: “But mom, I can clean my own room. I didn’t ask you to do this 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 I know what’s best for everyone! But after this experience, I realized that even when 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 you think is best for them, you don’t respect them. You’re effectively saying, “I know better than you what you really need.” And that attitude diminishes people.

Part of being kind to others is helping them in a respectful way. If you want to help someone (or give them a gift), find out what that person wants. They are not really friendly and helpful if you just help them in a paternalistic way by conveying that you know best. Instead, be kind by helping others in the right ways.

To be kind, choose compassion over judgment

Unfortunately, it is human nature to judge others. Because how often do we walk by a homeless person and think, “That person needs to get a job!” Or we might have a family member who is addicted to alcohol and we’ll say, “For heaven’s sake, just stop drinking! Pull your life together.” Or we have a child who is failing math and we tell the child, “Your bad grades are your fault. You need to learn more and stop fooling around.”

But being kind means showing compassion, even when it’s so easy to judge. I find that the best way to avoid the “judgment trap” is to tell myself regularly, “But for God’s sake I’m going.”

That means some of us are lucky in life. We may have been blessed with a stable upbringing or good genetics. Or we were born with a gender, a race, or a nationality (or all three!) that just make our lives a lot easier than other people’s lives.

Given that some people simply have 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, not judgment. Our attitude should be, “I’m so sorry you’re suffering. Let’s find a way to fix this situation.”

I admit it’s frustrating when people make big mistakes that negatively impact our lives and the lives of others. Be friendly anyway. Remember that being kind means being compassionate, even though it’s so much easier to judge.

Value kindness over being right

Years ago I hosted a family reunion where there was a heated argument about politics. Angry words fell. People insulted each other. And everyone left the meeting with a terrible feeling.

What was particularly stupid about the whole thing was that the argument was pointless. None of us worked in politics. And none of us had any influence on politics, apart from our one vote in every election. So we didn’t change the world by arguing. We just damaged our relationships with each other.

I’ve had similar experiences when it comes to discussing other hot topics like religion. For example, I happen to go to church. Well, I never try to force my religious beliefs on anyone. Rather, I see religion as a deeply personal matter.

However, I occasionally receive derogatory, insulting remarks about my religious beliefs from people who are atheists or agnostics. I prefer not to disagree when I hear these comments, but I always think to myself, ‘What was the point of that comment? How did that remark make the world a better place?”

Realize that problems arise when we care more about being right than we care about being kind. Of course, there are times when we need to voice our concerns. For example, we should always speak our mind when we see someone being treated unfairly. But that’s different than demanding that others see the world the same way we do.

In order to treat others with kindness, we must be willing to agree, to disagree. We cannot intimidate others into our perspective. Instead, we must value being kind rather than being right.

If you really want to change the world, the easiest thing you can do is be kind. Be consistently friendly. Make an effort to be kind, even if you don’t feel like it. Be kind because it’s the simplest thing you can do to make the world a better place.

If you really want to change the world: 4 ways to be kind

About Meerabelle Dey

Meerabelle Dey holds a BA in History and Religious Studies from the University of Toronto and a JD from Fordham University School of Law. She has spent much of her legal career dealing with issues affecting women, children and the poor. She has lived in the US, Canada and the Middle East. Meerabelle now devotes her time to writing. Her mission is to help people create lives that they personally find rewarding and meaningful. You can follow her at Create A Great Life.

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