One of the harshest truths a person can admit to themselves is that their kindness toward others is conditional. When other people agree with us or serve us in some way, it’s easy to be kind.
When they do the opposite of agreeing with us or serving us, we often get caught up in our own egos and our own self-agendas and subconsciously decide that they don’t fully deserve our kindness. We get impatient with the slow people in line at the grocery store, we roll our eyes after parting ways with a coworker who disagreed with us on some work matter, and we may even shout at the guy who cuts us off on the freeway.
We can all take this sort of conditional kindness as an opportunity to become mindful of our thoughts and feelings so we can maintain a more open mind when we become aware of other people’s differences. With a short and simple practice, you can slowly transform the way you treat people in your everyday life, regardless of whether their behavior lines up with your expectations or not.
Practice People Watching
Pick a time of day in your daily routine where you typically get to spend a few minutes in some kind of public place. You’re going to start by doing a bit of casual people watching. Some examples might include:
- Standing in line to buy something at a store
- Waiting for an appointment in a waiting room
- Taking public transit
- Sitting in a coffee shop
- Walking down the street or through public place like a mall
- Taking a break at work and observing coworkers around your workspace
Don’t worry — this kindness practice doesn’t require you to go up to strangers and start interacting with them. All you have to do is notice them from wherever you are.
Decide on Something You Love About Each Individual
Once you’ve found yourself in your people watching environment and have mindfully tuned into observing who’s around you and what they’re doing, place your attention on just one individual. Next, say this to yourself in your head:
“I love you for __________ because it suggests ___________.”
And fill in the blanks.
For example, let’s say you’re sitting in a coffee shop and notice a woman come in and walk up to the counter to place her order. You might notice that you really like her outfit. In this sort of situation, you could say something to yourself like:
“I love you for your incredible fashion sense, because it suggests that you’re a creative person who is not afraid of expressing herself.”
As another example, let’s say that you see a man sitting on the other side of the room looking frustrated with a stack of paper, a laptop, and a pen. Maybe he’s a teacher grading reports, or maybe he’s working on a book. Whatever he’s actually working on, you could notice the work he’s doing and say something to yourself like:
“I love you for your incredible work ethic, because it suggests that you’re focused on a purpose that’s important and meaningful to you.”
There Is Good in Everyone
You’re essentially looking for interesting aspects in these strangers that you simply observe and then telling yourself positive stories about them. The stories don’t necessarily have to be absolutely true so long as they can be a possible suggestion made by what you observe. Do this for 5 or 10 minutes a day for several months to a year and you’ll start to find that noticing the good in people will have become a habit.
The true test will come when you notice someone doing something or behaving in a way that you don’t approve of. Truth be told, there are good things to notice about the super slow people in line at the grocery store, coworkers who make seemingly ridiculous objections to your ideas, and yes – even those drivers on the road who cut you off.
For now, however, start with observing strangers by watching their mundane behaviors in very casual public places. This is a nice, gentle way to practice this kindness exercise without getting too caught up in judging too quickly.