“Be kind, for everyone you meet is fighting a hard battle.”
I remember seeing this quotation (variously attributed to Plato, Philo of Alexandria, or the pseudonymous Ian MacLaren) for the first time several years ago and it really stuck with me. Too often kindness is the last thing we think of, especially when encountering someone with whom we just don’t get on. Many people seem to view kindness as weakness, a trait that is all nice and good for nice and good people in a nice and good world, but one that doesn’t have a practical place in the reality around us. I, and perhaps many of you, disagree.
I think it helps to look at the quotation backwards: “Everyone you meet is fighting a hard battle, so be kind.” When we approach the thought in this way, the emphasis is not first on our response, but on what we are responding TO. It places the situation of the person we are meeting at the forefront of the interaction. It compels us to stop and think about WHY this person may not be acting in the way we think they should.
It is an easy thing to judge others. When we dwell within ourselves and measure the world and the people in it against ourselves, it is likely that we will find them wanting. It is only by coming out of ourselves and viewing the world from a different perspective that we can begin to truly understand where others are coming from. Now, this not the easiest thing to do! But I believe it is worth the effort. It means being willing to set aside what we think we know and instead to engage with the truth of someone else’s life experiences.
When we are able to do this, it makes being kind so much easier. Kindness, after all, is rooted in the concept that all people deserve to be treated with respect and care. When we become aware of the difficulties another person is facing, it becomes easier to forgive the things for which we have judged them. We can begin to understand that everyone reacts to their problems in different ways and that if we want to be treated kindly when we ourselves are having a difficult period in our own lives, we must be willing to give others the benefit of the doubt and treat them with kindness, even when we would rather strike out at them in anger. This re-visioning of our attitudes takes away the desire to return evil for evil and empowers us instead to return good for evil.
So in this time of polarization, when it seems that so many people we encounter (or perhaps we ourselves) are just spoiling for a fight—STOP. Consider what the other person may be going through. Consider why you are reacting the way you are. And make the conscious decision to choose kindness instead. The world will be a better place if you do.