Why Is It So Hard to Be Kind? (Even When I Want to Be)
Last week I posted an Instagram video discussing one sure-fire way to improve all relationships, something everyone could benefit from and apply. If you didn’t see the video, here’s the crux of the advice:
“Do to others what you would have them do to you.” – Jesus
You probably know this as The Golden Rule.
I ended the two-minute video with a personal challenge; I would spend my weekend mindful of treating others the way I’d like to be treated, and I encouraged others to do the same. Given the climate of today’s culture I knew the challenge would be worthwhile.
Here’s what I found:
It. Is. Hard. To. Be. Kind.
Maybe I should rephrase that statement to read, “it’s hard to love those who are hard to love.” Frankly, it’s fairly easy to love people who are easy to love.
But you already know that.
What you might not know–and what I didn’t know until this weekend–is why it’s hard to be kind and why it’s challenging to practice the Golden Rule. You may be thinking, who cares why it’s hard? Why does knowing why it’s hard matter?
Here’s the simple answer: If we don’t know why we struggle we’ll never know how to overcome the struggle.
Until we know why it’s difficult to love people it will never become easy (or easier) to love people. And, obeying Jesus will forever seem impossible.
Three Reasons It’s Hard to Treat Others Like We Want to Be Treated
Our Natural Inclination to Treat Others Like they Deserve to be Treated
During my weekend long commitment to practice the Golden Rule, my resolve was tested within an hour of promising myself to “do unto others.”
A biker intentionally ran a stop sign (he waved, as if to say, “thanks, I didn’t want to lose my stride.” Thank goodness no one hit him) then proceeded to hog the road. Dozens of drivers were forced to slow down, swerve, change lanes and generally adjust our lives to accommodate him, all because he refused to ride in the bike lane. This was no Saturday afternoon, “let’s-go-for-a-ride-with-the-kids” biker, mind you. This guy was a pro.
And, as far as road etiquette goes, utterly selfish.
But, since I’d just committed myself to treat others like I would want others to treat me, I gave him grace.
Honestly, I kind of wanted to give him a piece of my mind–at least alone, to myself, in my car.
Because he didn’t deserve grace.
He also didn’t deserve kindness or accommodation from others; he certainly didn’t give it to me or anyone else on the road.
As I (finally!) safely made my way past him, it hit me: although I consider myself to be a loving person, my natural tendency is to treat others like they deserve to be treated, not how I’d want others to treat me if the roles were reversed.
Until that moment, I’d never really considered how instinctive it is for me–for all of us, I suspect–to base our treatment of others on their treatment of us.
Our inclination to treat others as they deserve explains why it’s easy to love people when they are lovable but difficult to love people when they are not.
Our Expectation that the Way We Treat Others Will Be Reciprocated
Not long after the biker incident I headed to the grocery store where an employee rounded the corner with a large broom, nearly knocking me over. “Oh, I’m sorry. I didn’t see you,” I said with a smile. The worker looked at me with a blank stare, said nothing, and kept on sweeping.
I kind of thought he’d say sorry, too. Technically, he should have said, “I’m sorry” first.
As he walked away I giggled–but only because the incident unearthed my expectation that my kindness toward others will be met with others’ kindness toward me. This realization led me to the second major reason it’s hard to treat other people like we want to be treated.
Love isn’t always reciprocal.
Sometimes, when we’re kind to people they aren’t kind back.
And that makes loving hard.
Our Propensity to Choose “What’s Best for Me.”
Over the course of the weekend I thought about doing something I knew would bless someone going through a difficult season. I even thought, Donna, do for her what you would want someone to do for you if you were in her shoes.
But, you know what? I felt torn. Frankly, the thought of curling up on the sofa with a cheesy Netflix chick-flick sounded more appealing. And, while there are certainly days when putting on our jammies at 6pm is the best choice, there are also days when it’s not.
After reflecting on my internal battle with loving another person or making life easy for myself, here’s what I wrote in my journal:
“I tend to do unto others what I want done for me, unless I want to do what’s best for me.”
Ouch. There’s a honest revelation about my own self-interest!
Ultimately, love won out and what happened as a result was infinitely more rewarding than an evening spent with Netflix.
Still, little did I know how much God would use my experiment in practicing the Golden Rule to point out perspectives I’ve held that make it hard to treat others like I want others to treat me.
Honestly, I wasn’t even aware these perspectives–treating others the way they deserve, expecting reciprocal treatment, and self-interest–pervade my thinking, and as a result, my living, and my loving.
This morning I re-read Jesus’ Sermon on the Mount. One portion caught my attention.
46 If you love those who love you, what reward will you get? Are not even the tax collectors doing that? 47 And if you greet only your own people, what are you doing more than others? Do not even pagans do that? 48 Be perfect, therefore, as your heavenly Father is perfect. (Matthew 5:46-48)
Christ’s kind of love–the type of love He calls His followers to embrace–isn’t based on whether others deserve it, or reciprocate it, or we feel like it.
I’m certain Jesus loves me (and you) though I don’t deserve His love, too often I fail to reciprocate His love, and sometimes I don’t feel His love.
Jesus loves us anyway. Jesus loves us always.
In a world filled with people who are hard to love and who don’t reciprocate our kindness, let’s lean into Jesus and love anyway. In a world where the news, and life’s circumstances, and daily demands, and divisions suck us dry, let’s depend on Jesus and be kind anyway.
Let’s make the choice to do to others what we want others to do for us.
Will it be easy? Nope.
We’ll have to rise up and override our own propensities. But, to quote Jesus, “if you love only those who love you, what reward will you get?”
And, as we seek to practice the Golden Rule and be kind, let’s remember…
You are loved,
More than a Bible teacher, Donna is a self-described Bible explainer. A colorful storyteller who combines Biblical truth with real-life anecdotes, her messages not only help listeners understand God’s Word, but most important, grasp how to live it out in real life.