Sunday, January 11, 2009

Kindness---Why Is It Easier To Be Kind To Strangers?

I have been thinking about kindness this week. I realized that I need to work on being kinder to those closest to me---my husband, my kids, my brother, my sister, my friends. I spent a year practicing being kinder and softer in my outlook on life a few years ago and became a better person for it. It is time to do that again in 2009.

My dictionary says, "kindness n. 1 The quality of being kind; good will. 2 A kind act; a favor. 3 A kindly feeling."

"kind adj. 1 Friendly and helpful: a kind act. 2 Gentle: kind to children. 3 Characterized by friendliness and gentleness: a kind remark. ---Syn. 1. charitable, generous, good, good-hearted. 2 humane, kindly."

Why is it easier to be kind to a stranger than it is to those you love? I think it is because you have more of yourself invested in those you love. A stranger enters your life for just a few minutes and then is gone. You don't always see the change that your act of kindness brought about in the other person. You just know that you felt good for giving that other person a smile, or for taking the time to open a door and letting the other person enter first, or for letting another person go before you in the line at the pharmacy or for giving money to your favorite charity. All of those are acts of kindness that you perform for the benefit of strangers.

Because you have invested your time, your money, your love into those closest to you, you are more afraid of being rejected or disappointed or maybe even ignored and taken for granted if you do those same small things for the people closest to you. Instead of being fearful, remember the advantages of being kind to those closest to you.

When you are kind to others, they are usually kind to you as well. When you are kind to others, you get to see their pleasure caused by your act of kindness. I am not saying be kind to others because of what you will get back. The getting back is just a nice side effect of your actions. Even if the other person doesn't response to your kindness, you still know that you did something good for someone else. I know that these apply to strangers as well as those you are closest to.

In my own way, I am saying that the added benefit to being kind to those closest to you is that you get to see the happiness that you have contributed to in another person that you care about and love. That always makes me happier.

Being kind to others is a great way to express your gratitude for that person being in your life. Expressing your gratitude to that person is in itself an act of kindness. Anything that you do that helps another person feel better about themselves can be an act of kindness.

My act of kindness for you, my reader, is to finish this article before you catch on that I am beginning to ramble. Have a glorious day. It is cold here but the sun is shining brightly so I am having a glorious day of sunshine.


Anonymous said...

I am reminded of that old song, "You always hurt the ones you love."

Wisdom here.

We can risk being unkind to those close to us because we feel we are secure in their love.

They will give us a pass if we are in a bad mood!

Thanks for this reminder.

(You were not rambling!)

Patricia Singleton said...

Corinne, thanks. In an email, I received this message.
"Be kinder than necessary because every one you meet is fighting some kind of battle." I had just posted this article when I received the email.

Anonymous said...

How true it is that we find it easier to be kinder to strangers than to our family members and lastly, to ourselves. I've also found that when I am able to take myself away from a rocky situation, I become less angry and able to view others more compassionately.

Anonymous said...

Because you have invested your time, your money, your love into those closest to you, you are more afraid of being rejected or disappointed or maybe even ignored and taken for granted if you do those same small things for the people closest to you.

I think this is a great insight into why we feel it's hard to be kind to the people around us. We also have higher expectations of them, as the people we choose (sort of) to spend our lives with. I don't have to live with the lady I met on the metro last night, so if she'd been a little annoying it wouldn't have bothered me much.

Patricia Singleton said...

Evelyn, what you are describing is detachment and yes, when you are able to do it, you can see the person or situation clearer. Thanks for your comment.

Patricia Singleton said...

Ruth, yes, that is exactly what I mean. Thanks for your example.

Anonymous said...

I would definitely agree with the investment of yourself and time being big factors. Something like a strangers character flaws might have no effect on you if it's a brief encounter, whereas a character flaw in someone close to you can definitely push your buttons and make you not want to be kind. Also, we want to put our best foot forward with a stranger. We were probably kind to the people that are closest to us when we first met them (friends/spouse) partly because we wanted to show them our best.

Patricia Singleton said...

Broderick, how very true each of your statements is, especially when we are first "in love." We definitely put our best foot forward when we are getting to know the person that we are "in love" with.

Anonymous said...

I have found that to be kind to family is easier and easier than being in resistance or trying to change them or control them....I also found that being kind to myself the top priority. I have had the relief of letting go of a connection to a family member, even though I wish her no harm and have a love for her she could not be kind to me - so I think the greatest kindness for me was to stay out of her life entirely.

Patricia Singleton said...

Patricia, being kind to myself is something that, in the beginning, I really had to work at. Being kind to yourself goes hand in hand with loving yourself. I had to learn to love myself too.

I had to make the decision to let go of my connection with my dad many years ago for my own protection. It was the best thing that I could do for myself.

Thanks for visiting and leaving a comment. Have a glorious day.

Anonymous said...

Funny, I was just thinking that it's so easy NOT to be nice to strangers on the seen in the incredibly nasty comments that people leave on youtube and in on-line forums...and, actually, I was thinking that because I recently talked on the phone for the first time an on-line friend, and, experiencing her for the first time as more than words on a screen, thought "wow--I really haven't been as nice to her as I could've in our IM arguments...." Then, as it turned out, she didn't think I'd been so terrible anyway.... Nonetheless, I do find myself, in leaving comments on the blogs of depressed people, giving out lots of compliments, encouragement, and general warmth, when I might very well hold back a bit if it were someone I knew better, fearing being hurt if my attempt at kindness is spurned or taken for granted or ignored....

Clearly, you're not the only person who can ramble.... As Robert Plant sang "Ramble on...."

Patricia Singleton said...

Yoga For Cynics, I have read that the anonymity of the internet makes it easier for people to be unkind and even cruel with their comments because you don't come face to face with the person on the other end of the conversation usually. We all need to practice more kindness in our lives. Thanks for your comment.

Alexa said...

I wonder if there's another possibility, too, that might help explain how it is that we tend to be kinder to strangers ...

Perhaps there are degrees of kindness ... like the amount of energy, time and commitment we are called on to offer. Holding open a door for someone takes a few seconds; smiles, thanks and "You're welcome" conclude the transaction.

Now think on the other extreme to a kindness that has been offered over a long period -- perhaps years ... the kindness that is a commitment in itself, come forth from the love you feel for someone like a mate, a child, or any other relative; for the friends of your heart; your mentors and elders and personal heroes (the heroes you actually know) ... The kindness that is called forth to *tend* another person, whether it be a baby or child; someone close who is ill, injured, in crisis, in tremendous change; elders, and those who are dying or soon to give birth -- This can be hard work, long work, sometimes frustrating and seemingly futile work ... and we get rattled and tattered and *tired*. It's not so easy to express kindness then ... It happens; we go through a rough patch and center ourselves again.

There's a certain presence and intention in kindness -- whether it's simply in holding a door open, or caring for a loved one for years -- an immediate impact, and a contagious effect ... (I once received a hug of pure kindness and compassion from a mentor that changed my life.) Kindness is irrestible to almost all people, except those who have been brutalized and cannot perceive or trust a kind act for what it is ... But I can say from experience that kindness will get through, eventually, inevitably ... :-)

I notice alot about a person's baseline of kindness by how s/he treats someone "ordinary" like a server in a restaurant, a bus driver, a clerk at the dry cleaner's ... by how s/he treats animals and children ... by how s/he treats other people with whom s/he might have challenging differences (in opinions, beliefs, prejudices, etc.) In all cases, is there a basic respect and consistency in the behaviour?

... And it all comes home to how kind we are to ourselves, doesn't it ...

I know I've blathered here ... and the Dalai Lama said it best, when asked what his relgion was:

"My religion? ... My religion is kindness."

This is my first visit to your blog, Patricia ... Your post and its responses really engaged me. Thank you ... I will visit again! :-)


Patricia Singleton said...

Jaliya, thank you for your visit and your comment. I have a friend who just hired someone to take care of his wife 3 days a week because he is so tired. She wakes him at least 2-3 times a night as well as keeps him busy during the day. I didn't think of his caretaking as a kindness. You are right. There are degrees of kindness. Please do visit again.

Lance said...

Wonderful article, Patricia. And so true. It can be easy to be kind to strangers, and yet - not so kind - to those who really matter the most. I know I've done that. So, this is a great reminder of being kind to everyone, especially those we love dearly - thank you, a wonderful message to hear.

Patricia Singleton said...

Lance, thank you. Yesterday I didn't do so well with being kind to my husband. It was halfway through the day when I caught myself being verbally mean to him. When I did realize what I was saying, I stopped.

This week a friend asked me how do you stop doing something that you do just because it is a habit. I told her that you do the habit, you catch yourself doing the habit, you stop; you do the habit again, you catch yourself doing the habit again, hopefully sooner this time, you stop again. I told her that you do this over and over again until your awareness of what you are doing becomes so good that finally you realize you were about to do the habit and you don't. You stop it before you do it then you don't have to do the habit again because your thoughts change.

I hope I explained that to where it makes sense.

Lance, I just visited your blog and I like your pictures and quotes so much, along with your articles, that I subscribed to your blog. I haven't read the 2-part interview that Stephen Hopson did of you yet but I intend to do that today. Have a glorious day.

Anonymous said...

Being kind to others fuels a fire of love within the soul. When you are doing something that feels right, you simply feel compelled to continue, and you do. It makes sense.You do not question the relevance or necessity. You accept intrinsic value and focus energy on what matters. This is silent but very powerful indeed.

Patricia Singleton said...

Liara, I have been on the computer most of the day catching up on past blog articles and reading comments from you on those same blog articles. Thank you for sharing your brand of wisdom through your comments here and there. I haven't read your blog in awhile. I do believe it is time to do that again.

Yes, the love that I feel from my own acts of kindness to others makes me the biggest benefactor of those acts of kindness. Thanks for reminding me of that.

Marj aka Thriver said...

I think, for me, I have the hardest time being kind to MYSELF. I'm really working on this one lately so that this kindness can then spread out to others.

Hey, thanks for stopping by my blog with your kind comment. I was nice to "see" you again!

Patricia Singleton said...

Marj, being kind to myself and taking care of my needs were definitely difficult lessons that I had to learn as well.

Now that the holidays are over, I will be visiting all of my favorite blogs more. Have a glorious day.

Anonymous said...

Dear Patricia,

You write in such an authentic
way. Your personal introspection invites everyone who reads you
to be a better person.

I was going to write a comment, but ended up making a blog post in response. :)


PS....... you can get right there from the link at my name.

Patricia Singleton said...

Deb, thanks for your words here and through your article on your blog. You are one of the best examples of kindness that I know online. Your love from your heart touches so many people.

Anonymous said...

You share your personal insights with such a feel of authenticity. It is a real pleasure to explore a range of your previous posts. I share a quote with you that is especially appropriate, not only in honour of inauguration day in the U.S., but also in the context of your posts. Your life reveals a human being who is willing to stand tall and grow in the face of adversity;

"The ultimate measure of a man is not where he stands in moments of comfort and convenience, but where he stands at times of challenge and controversy."

~Martin Luther King, Jr.
1929-1968, U.S. Civil Rights Leader

Patricia Singleton said...

Liara, thanks for sharing the quote from Dr. King whose birthday was celebrated across the U. S. yesterday. I have so enjoyed your many visits yesterday and today to my blog. Your comments are kind and insightful.

Anonymous said...

Hi, Patricia! I just wrote a blog entry on kindness this morning! It's at Thanks for the work that you do!

Phil Bolsta
Author of "Sixty Seconds: One Moment Changes Everything" (

Patricia Singleton said...

Phil, I enjoyed your article.

Anonymous said...

As you learn kindness and gain insight into the experietial side of this feeling, then you may find it easier to be kind to others. Alternatively, if you are beginning to gain insight into positive feelings, then a vivid imagination enables you to create mental images and sensations that reflect how you would like to be treated. Why not treat other people at least as kindly as that?

Patricia Singleton said...

Liara, thanks for your insights. The experiencial side of feelings is where my problem lies. A part of me, the fearful part, resists doing that.

I don't have trouble treating others kindly as much as I have trouble treating myself kindly. I was a people pleaser in the extremely, therefore allowing myself to be abused rather than possibly hurting the other person's feelings. I don't do that any more.

Tumblemoose said...


One of the things that has stuck with me comes from Dr. Wayne Dyer. Seratonin levels were measured in a scientific study and they found that the levels increased for the person giving the act of kindness, the person receiving, AND anyone witnessing the act.

Very powerful and has stuck with me.

I think that being kind is the only way to go.



Patricia Singleton said...

George, I didn't know about the study and seratonin but I do know how good it feels to commit an act of kindness. I love the TV commercial that has all of these people helping out others and the first act comes full circle back to the person that you think did the first act of kindness. Some commercials are really worth watching over and over again. Each time that I have watched that commercial, I feel good. Thanks for visiting.

Anonymous said...

Patricia, as you learn to be kind to yourself, the prospect of being kind to everyone, everywhere becomes more realistic and possible. Everything you choose to do in life is as hard or as easy as you decide it will be. Your thoughts begin and end inside you.

Patricia Singleton said...

Liara, what you say is so true. I realized a long time ago that all of my problems were created because I didn't love myself enough to create better. Loving myself means being kind to myself.