Why some people are unkind

Why some people are unkind

Why are some people unkind?

This is a question we can often find ourselves asking when, seemingly through no fault of our own, someone is unkind to us.

I thought this was an important question to consider this week as we journey through our month of kindness, because when we’re met with unkindness (which is more often than we’d like), it can leave us feeling discouraged, and wondering what’s the point of being kind to others.

I believe there are a number of reasons people can be unkind, which I’m going to share in this post. Hopefully understanding these reasons will offer you some perspective and empathy the next time someone is unkind to you, so you can continue being kind, without letting their behaviour impact you.

The first reason I believe people can be unkind is because they were never taught how to be kind. Now this might sound like a cop-out, or a poor excuse for bad behaviour, but hear me out.

When you were growing up, imagine if you never saw anyone being kind, you never witnessed a positive example of kindness in your childhood. How would you know what kindness was, and what to say and do to be kind? Many children grow up in challenging domestic situations, surrounded by addiction and violence, or parents filled with hatred for each other (and the world), because of things that have happened in their past.

Hopefully these children encounter someone caring, such as a school friend or teacher who sets a positive example of kindness for them, but sadly, sometimes this doesn’t happen. These children then grow up and enter society with a “chip on their shoulder”, and resentment towards others, which can then become a perpetual cycle when they have children. When you encounter people like this, sometimes it is helpful to think, “they don’t know any better”.

The next reason someone could be unkind (which we touched on above) is because of negative past experiences, or a struggle they are trying to overcome at the moment. Many people have experienced traumatic situations, had unkind things happen to them and think along the lines of “no one has even been kind to me, why should I be kind to someone else?”

The most helpful thing you can do for people in either of the above situations is show them kindness – even if they are a complete jerk to you. The key is breaking the cycle and making them realise that not everyone is bad or ‘out to get them’. As Robin Roe says, “Hate ricochets, but kindness does too.”

The third reason people can be unkind is because they are busy. They are caught up in their own world and forget to look around them. This is something we can all relate to, and are probably guilty of at some time or another. We are all products of our busy society. “Busyness” can lead to stress, and loss of connection to others, which reduces our tolerance and compassion towards others. When we have a lot of things on our plate, we are quick to become impatient and frustrated when others take too long and meander in front of us at a shopping centre when we are on a mission, for example.  

In these instances, we must realise that the issue is not the other person being too slow, it is us, being too busy and trying to fit too much into our lives. The price we pay is the way we act and treat others, which is sometimes with unkindness.

So what can we do about people who are unkind, or situations when we feel ourselves becoming impatient and as a result acting in an unkind manner?

Firstly, remember the words of Brad Meltzer, “Everyone you meet is fighting a battle you know nothing about. Be kind. Always.” If someone is unkind to you, the problem lies with them and not you. Demonstrate compassion, and if possible, dig a little deeper and be as kind to them as you can. Chances are their unkindness is a product of a negative previous experience.

Secondly, if you find yourself being impatient or unkind towards others, stop yourself and question why. Are you busy, stressed, tired, hungry, unwell? Be kind to yourself and rest or set boundaries to banish the busyness. Remember, being kind is a habit you can establish when you focus on it, so keep working on it and aim to demonstrate kindness in some way every day.

In the meantime, here are some questions you can reflect on to increase your awareness of kindness. I encourage you to write your answers to these questions in your journal or in your Morning Pages to further explore your thoughts on kindness.

  1. When was the last time you experienced unkindness? Why do you think this person was unkind to you, and how could you have reacted towards them in a kind way?
  2. When was the last time you were unkind to someone else? What triggered you, and how could you avoid this situation in the future?
  3. What is the next kind thing you could do for someone else?
  4. What kind act would you like someone to show to you?

Finally, remember that Kindness is a reflection on us. The only kind acts we can control are our own. I’ll leave you with this quote from Roy T. Bennett: “Treat everyone with politeness and kindness, not because they are nice, but because you are.”