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What Does Kindness Mean Anyway?

I recently came across a sign someone put in their yard that said, “KINDNESS ALWAYS”.  At first I didn’t think much of it, but then I began pondering what the person who bought it might mean by it.  Then I considered what it means to me to “be kind”.

I suspect most people think “kindness always” should mean be nice to everyone and never do or say anything that hurts someone’s feelings.  Don’t judge people or their behavior, or at least don’t verbalize your judgements when they’re unflattering.  To me, this is problematic.  To be kind, sometimes you have to tell people the truth, even if it hurts their feelings temporarily.  We don’t grow and learn by being told we’re right all the time, or by people agreeing with every thought we have.  While it’s great to hear about times we’re right; we also need people to be honest when we’re wrong.  This allows us a more accurate assessment of ourselves and  allows us to make needed adjustments.

Kindness Also Means….

Kindness includes people caring enough about us to tell us the truth.  This could be, for example, someone telling us a shirt doesn’t look good on us, or telling us we’re behaving inappropriately. Being kind to others might mean being honest about whether we want to do something for someone.  For example, I have had several clients who were total people pleasers.  They ran themselves ragged at work because they didn’t want to say no to their co-workers or bosses. They didn’t want to hurt anyone’s feelings or disappoint anyone.  I’ve seen people do this with their families too.  Parents run themselves ragged taking kids to too many activities rather than telling them they’ll have to choose one or two.  Spouses sometimes take on too much responsibility for household chores.  Sometimes teenagers have trouble approaching parents about things they feel are unfair.  They grin and bear it until they get overloaded and then either fall apart or have an oversized emotional reaction.

So sometimes being kind means saying “No”, or letting someone know we disagree.  It’s important to find ways to be honest with people you care about, and sometimes with those you don’t care so much about.  We have to be kind to ourselves too and sometimes this means standing up for what we believe rather than just going along to get along.  

How to Get Better at Saying NO

Practice the wording or phrasing for how you want to assert yourself.  You can disagree or say “No” while still showing kindness in the way you talk to people.  It might be as simple as saying, “Do you mind if I tell you what I’m thinking about that?”   I’ve noticed that telling people the thoughts you’re having about something rather than directly disagreeing with them makes it easier for me to voice my concerns and also makes it easier for them to hear it.  People seem more willing to hear your thoughts when you express it this way.  Start with something small that’s not such a big deal.  Try out your wording on something such as disagreeing over where to go for dinner.  Then try to judge whether your wording was effective in being honest and kind at the same time.  You’ll usually know by the way the other person responds.  Do they stop and listen to what you say and comment on it, or do they seem defensive?

Learning to be more comfortable disagreeing with people is a good tool to have at your disposal.  If done right, you can solve problems, get along better with people, and have more authentic relationships with others.

Gary Watson is a Solution Focused Therapist in Grand Rapids Michigan and Ada, Michigan.  He provides counseling for couples, counseling for teenagers, and adults.  He can help with anxiety, depression, stress, college and work stress, relationship problems, and more.  For more information, please visit the website at