I don’t know about you, but I find it a lot harder to be kind to certain people in certain situations: the check-out cashier who seems angry that you chose his line, the driver who took the space you had been waiting for in a crowded parking lot or the stranger who is sitting in “your spot” in the pew in church. The aunt who will be at dinner gossiping mercilessly about your favorite cousin. The friend on Facebook posting political articles that make you wonder how you ever got to be friends.

These places, people and predicaments are the most difficult when it comes to showing kindness. But they’re our training grounds for kindness, and the opportunities that give us real insight into just how kind we’re willing to be. What I have discovered is that kindness is a nice sentiment, but being kind comes down to what you’re willing to do in the moments when your heart wants to hide and your brain wants to judge, giving you an excuse to act badly or do nothing at all.

Here are some things I try to do to step up my kindness when it’s really really hard.

  1. Be
    cool – chill out. (Relax, don’t do it!)
    Why do we take everything
    so personally? (As if the guy blocking the intersection and making us late
    is trying to get us fired?) So much of our inability to be kind is
    thinking that our agenda is more important than everyone else’s. If we
    could breathe when we get irritated, take ourselves a little less
    seriously, and understand that another person’s plans are as important as
    ours, the middle finger could get a rest.
  1. Know
    what sets you off, and be prepared.
    If you’re going into a
    situation you know you’re going to find frustrating—crowded stores, long
    meetings, family dinners, phone calls with tech support—be prepared.
    Things aren’t pretty when we’re hungry, cold, tired, or in a hurry. Be
    self-aware and talk to yourself: “Girl, you know you are tired and hungry,
    so when you go into this restaurant, be kind.” Decide how you want to
    handle your frustrations and annoyances, and how you might show kindness
    instead of contempt. I have a friend who always makes it her business to
    ask anyone who’s providing service how their day is going. Often, they
    respond pleasantly surprised that anyone on the other side of the
    interaction cares about them.
  1. Connect
    with compassion.
    Instead of assuming the reason someone does
    something that infuriates you is because they’re thoughtless or clueless
    or cruel, assume it’s not the case. Suspend your judgment and keep your
    heart open to the possibility that they’re having a terrible day or fighting
    some battle you don’t know about. The other day, I greeted a receptionist
    who seemed less than enthusiastic upon my arrival for a meeting, with her
    feet up on a chair. My first thoughts were judgments: Lazy. And not very
    friendly. How did she get this job? But I decided to be kind and consider
    why she might be acting that way. So, I asked, in sincerity, “Did you hurt
    your legs?” She responded, “Yes, I was in a bad car accident.” Because I
    decided to give her the benefit of the doubt, I was able to genuinely
    acknowledge this difficult ordeal and wish her a speedy recovery. Kindness
    is not about being nice or fake; it’s about finding the compassion for
    another even when you are insulted or annoyed.
  1. Watch
    your mouth.
    Corollary to #3: Don’t assume you know someone’s
    whole story. Sometimes keeping your less than generous judgments to
    yourself is an act of kindness. If I’d made a snarky comment to the
    receptionist above and then found out about her accident, I’d have felt
    terrible and made her feel worse. And let’s watch our body language, too:
    face, fingers, hips, necks, and eyes can be kind or cutting. Sometimes the
    kindest thing you can do is not to grimace, point, gyrate or roll your
    eyes. A smile is a powerful act of kindness especially when it’s not
    expected. So if you feel the need to stare at that mother with the
    squirming children on the plane, try a smile or share a look with your
    eyes that says, “Don’t worry about me, I’m good. You good?” That’s the
    kinder way.
  1. Drop
    the negativity.
    It’s easy to find things to complain about and
    criticize: Your cousin’s wedding was nice, but the chicken was rubbery and
    cold—and you feel the need to talk to everyone about it. To be kinder,
    push beyond the negative, try to find the positive, then share it. Tell
    people what you like about what they are wearing, doing or saying. You
    don’t like the fact that your nephew has tattoos all over his body, but
    the quote on his forearm is profound. Tell him. You completely disagree
    with your boss on something, but you like the leadership she’s showing by
    being open and honest with the team. Tell her.
  1. Reset
    If you lose your cool in a situation, don’t be afraid
    to stop and change gears. I was talking on the phone once to a bank
    customer service person who had called me several times about the same
    issue, so on the fourth call with her, I caught an attitude. I could hear
    it in my voice and feel it in my face. But I thought to myself: “Don’t you
    pray every day to be kind and helpful to people? Well here’s an
    opportunity.” So, I owned up to my behavior right there on the phone: “I
    am so sorry. I’m treating you so badly and you’re just trying to do your
    job,” I said. “There’s no reason for me to act this way.” And then
    something happened that I wasn’t prepared for: The customer service rep
    giggled. Then she said, “That’s okay.” I apologized again and ask if we
    could start over. The call went better than well: She found more money for
  1. Don’t
    abuse your power.
    When we’re in the power position, I notice we
    have to work harder to be kinder. Whether we’re bosses with subordinates,
    parents with children, or patrons with wait staff or customer service
    people, the power can make us nasty, lazy or inconsiderate. The things we
    say to our children, for example—the venom we throw their way—is sometimes
    unbelievable. When you take the time to explain to a child a decision that
    is difficult for them to accept, or ask the opinion of someone you
    supervise who disagrees with you, it’s a kinder kindness than “because I
    said so” or “because I can.”

With every move we make toward kindness, we get to check our presumptions and biases—and the people on the other side of the interactions have an opportunity to adjust their preconceived notions as well. And when we move in real time to affirm the humanity of others we meet an evolving version of ourselves that makes us hopeful. Let’s all do our part as often as we can to keep our world spinning toward greater peace and possibility.

I’d love to hear about the times you’ve managed to be kind when it wasn’t easy. Share your stories with the hashtag #KindOfHard