Excerpt from the book How Kind People get Tough
In chapter 1 ‘Who Are the Kind People?’, we saw that the kind people I refer to in this book are pretty much all of us, and that includes you. Even though you may make mistakes, and sometimes cause yourself and others difficulties, it’s unlikely that you do these things with any real intention of doing harm. In your heart you’re generally a well-meaning person, and that’s what makes you one of the kind people.
As we’ve seen, kindness is all about love and connection. We’ve also seen that assertiveness is about love and connection too. It seems clear then that it’s perfectly possible for any of us to be both kind and assertive at the same time.
There is one small difference though. Kindness says, ‘I’m here with you, offering connection: we are together.’ Assertiveness says, ‘I want to be here with you, offering connection, and let’s do it together, in the best possible way. The thing to notice here is in the best possible way.
In order to be kind plus assertive then, we need to think in terms of being kind in the best possible way. That is, we need to make sure we’re being the right kind of kind.
You see, while we may have the desire to be kind, we sometimes get kindness all muddled up. We can think we’re being kind when actually we’re not being kind at all. If you’re keeping someone happy to the point that you’re denying your own worth—is that being kind to you, and ultimately to them? If you keep giving in because someone keeps asking, and you don’t want to say no—is that being kind to you, and ultimately to them?
Sam’s girlfriend, Fay, was feeling very low. Having completed her degree three months previously, she still couldn’t find a decent job. Sam felt sorry for Fay; he knew what it was like to be unemployed and broke.
Every day, Fay would lie on the sofa, watching TV, smoking, and scoffing junk food. The house was a mess; she did nothing to contribute, and if Sam tried to say anything, she’d get moody and snap at him.
Sam could see that Fay’s confidence had taken a knock and he wanted to be kind. So he put up with her moods and her laziness. As time passed, though, he was getting fed up with it all—he was beginning to feel resentful.
Was Sam being kind to Fay?
In our desire to be kind and caring, we can find ourselves putting up with disrespect, and then feeling confused and resentful.
Sam loved Fay and wanted to make her happy, but he didn’t know what to do. His emotions vacillated from resentment to compassion, from irritability to concern.
When our emotions take over, it can be difficult to think straight and decide how to handle a situation. However, there is a way to step back, see the clearer picture, and navigate your way out of the confusion. And that way is to ask yourself: ‘What kind of kind am I being?’
When our emotions take over, it can be difficult to think straight and decide how to handle a situation. However, there is a way to step back, see the clearer picture, and navigate your way out of the confusion. And that way is to ask yourself:
‘What kind of kind am I being?’
Misguided Kindness or Conscious Kindness?
Understanding the difference between misguided kindness and conscious kindness is the key to having more confident and successful relationships of all types.
In later chapters, I’ll be sharing a number of case studies with you and providing methods on how to be assertive in different situations and scenarios. As we explore them, I’ll often be referring to Misguided Kindness and Conscious Kindness. So let’s begin by getting clearer on what these mean and how they differ.
Sam was misguided in his laid-back response to Fay. He wasn’t really helping her at all. He certainly wasn’t being authentic by hiding how he felt about her moods and her laziness. Her behaviour was disrespectful to him, and to their relationship. His attempts at trying to mollify her actually meant the relationship was off balance. He had put himself squarely in the position of I’m not OK, You’re OK.
In reality, misguided kindness isn’t kindness at all—it's really just fear disguised as kindness. It’s an illusion of kindness that shows up in ways that seem like an easy solution at the time.
I’ve been there myself, and maybe you too will have recognised misguided kindness in your own relationships as you read about Sam’s situation. Perhaps you’ve gone into people-pleasing mode or made yourself available (when you really weren’t) or rescued someone from their own responsibilities.
It can seem so much easier to try to avoid feeling bad by smoothing things over and keeping the peace. We all do this sometimes, because we want to be accepted and validated by others. We also do it because we want to avoid conflict.
I know that even just the thought of challenging someone’s disrespect can seem daunting—ruffling their feathers means you may well have to sit with the discomfort for a while. But this is life. There will always be differences of opinions and flurries of emotions. If we can learn to be more honest about our need for regard and respect (even in small steps), life can move forward instead of stagnating, because those same old issues won’t keep popping up time and again.
And respect works both ways. When we’re not being honest with someone about how we feel—is that being respectful to ourselves? Is it being respectful to them?
I want to be clear here that I’m not suggesting being honest to the point of blatant unkindness. I wouldn’t be so tactless as to tell someone they look awful today, purely in the interests of being authentic! What I’m talking about here is when we consistently try to avoid upsetting the apple cart so we can have a quiet life—and all the while ignoring that inner voice that tells us we deserve better.
When Sam finally, lovingly, took the courage to be authentic and tell Fay it was time to get her act together, he was no longer enabling her self- destructive and disrespectful behaviour. Fay complained a bit, she sulked for a couple of days, and then she did get her act together. She was able to move forward in her life, and their relationship grew stronger because ultimately she realised that Sam truly cared.
Like everyone else, it’s likely that you can identify times in your life where you’ve used misguided kindness. Possibly quite often. Don’t judge yourself for this though—everyone does it. It’s just a muddled-up way of viewing ‘being kind’. That’s why I call it misguided kindness, because I want you to understand that it’s not that you’re doing anything wrong—it’s just that it’s so very easy to get confused.
While misguided kindness is often a knee-jerk reaction—an attempt to smooth things over and keep people happy—conscious kindness is the opposite. As the word ‘conscious’ implies, it’s much more about self-reflection and thinking things through. It’s about considering the long-term outcome and it’s about finding the balance of positive outcome and love for all concerned. You’ll see as we look more at conscious kindness that this is at the heart of assertiveness.
Conscious kindness asks:
- How can I respect myself, and others, by being authentic in this situation?
- How can I make sure I’m being kind to both myself and the other person here?
- What does our relationship need from me for it to evolve and deepen?
It takes a little practice to think in this more intentional way, but you’ll find that once you make this shift, it’s so much easier to be sincere and direct in your relationships. The more you practise conscious kindness, the easier it will be to find the courage to be your authentic self and speak your truth.
Sam had been putting off confronting the situation with Fay because he feared rejection. It’s this fear that, even when it may not be at the surface of awareness, is behind misguided kindness.
When Sam realised that his reluctance to confront Fay wasn’t helping, he found the courage to overcome his fear and challenge her behaviour. By looking at the broader picture and wanting to truly help her and their relationship, he made the shift to approach the problem from a place of love—instead of fear and worry.
I often talk about the power of love, because I’ve seen, through helping so many people, that when we make the decision to come from a place of love, we’re given the strength and guidance we need.
One Small Step at a Time
This isn’t to say that a magic wand is waved, and a person will suddenly become all brightness and light. Sam had to sit with discomfort for a day or two while Fay sulked and then figured things out. Learning to be more assertive is a process: it takes practice, one small step at a time.
There’s no rule that says you must suddenly change into a SELF-ASSURED SUPERHERO overnight! It’s more a step-by-step journey towards the confident you.
A self-assured life is a cumulative process:
The more you say no, the easier it becomes to say no.
The less you people-please, the less you’ll need to people-please.
The more you speak up, the easier it will become to speak up.
The more you ask for respect, the easier it will become to ask for respect.
Navigating relationships can be challenging, but so very rewarding when we get it right. As you begin to practise a more conscious kindness, you’ll see that people come around surprisingly quickly. Especially when they detect that you’re coming from a place of love.
You can also tell people that you’re practising being more confident and assertive. This way they won’t be taken aback by your new way of being. Often, they’ll be inspired to join you on your quest for a more intentional life!
Your Conscious Kindness Checklist
Learning to be consciously kind can take a little work. You may find yourself feeling confused and wondering:
‘Am I right to be pressing my point here, or am I just being oversensitive? … Is this really my stuff, or is it their stuff?... Is it my place to say something?... Is there something else going on here that isn’t so obvious to me?’
With that in mind, I’ve provided a Conscious Kindness Checklist to help guide you. You can get the downloadable PDF version of this checklist by filling in the form below. It's a handy checklist of questions which will help you find clarity in confusing situations.