The Shelf Life of Kindness

For most of us the shelf life of a kind disposition is about two minutes especially for strangers and those who hit a raw nerve. *

Now although we are kind at the core of our being it is difficult to sustain the feeling. We can go from kind to defensive and critical in a flash.


Consider this scenario. You are a tourist walking down a sidewalk in New York and a woman in front of you spits into the gutter. What is our immediate response? I bet, almost immediate judgment. But what if we found out that person was from a part of China where such behavior is more or less acceptable? Maybe then our response would be acceptance or, at least, resignation.

Such a shift from kindness to judgment is more common than not. We have an internal storyline going that says something like “This person is a source of discomfort for me. How can I defend myself?”  As a result our minds are filled with reactive strategies so much so that we cannot truly be open to the other or stay neutral until we find out what is really going on.

So we have a choice. We can open up to a person who jangles our nerves. Or we can shut down and rush to judgment.

The choice.

1.   Stop and ask, “What’s going on here? Seek to understand.

2.   Take stock of your own inner dialog. “Why am I getting so upset?”

3.   Consider how judgment is a bad habit. It is not good for the soul and is an unnecessary stressor that reduces the quality of a life.

4.   Ask, “What sort of person do I want to be? Judgmental or kind?”

5.   Stay away from judgmental people.

6.   View this perplexing circumstance as a chance to grow.

7.   Hit the pause button and choose another response. Also observe your response and be kind to yourself and not judge your reaction. 

Welcome to the journey back to the center of your being where kindness is alive and well.

Kindness is a choice.

The quality of mercy is not strain’d.

It droppeth as the gentle rain from heaven

Upon the place beneath: it is twice blest;

It blesseth him that gives and him that takes.

William Shakespeare

* This fact was pointed out by one of my favorite writers Pema Chodron in her article “Taking the Leap”

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About cedricj

I am a licensed psychologist and management consultant and have always been intrigued by how leaders can inspire people in their organizations. The bottom line is that people are not always motivated by material rewards, the use of the carrot or the stick, fear and intimidation,and command and control, Five human needs inspire and drive us. Kristine S MacKain, Ph.D and myself describe these inspirational forces in our book "What Inspirational Leaders Do" (Kindle 2008)
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