Being Kind To People We Don’t Like

“Treat everyone with politeness, even those who are rude to you – not because they are nice, but because you are.” (Author Unknown) 

Attribution: Donna CameronTry as we might, there are probably still going to be people we just don’t like and probably never will. I’m not talking about the crooks, criminals, and psychopaths whom we wisely disdain and avoid, but the everyday disagreeable creatures, nuisances, and scalawags who populate our lives and challenge us in unwelcome ways.

We encounter them occasionally—the ornery neighbor, the obstinate board member, the know-it-all acquaintance, the perpetually petulant client. We can ignore them to the degree possible, but even then they’re still present, a plaguing irritation that brings clouds to otherwise sunshiny days.

Radical Kindness

What if we engage in radical kindness to not only tolerate our encounters with taxing people, but to learn to see them as likable and even admirable? To feel gratitude for these people in our lives?

If we approach our encounters with the irritants in our lives with a spirit of inquiry and openness, we may be surprised to learn that the everyday jerks we encounter have some pretty good qualities. We may also recognize that there are likely to be people who see us as the everyday jerks in their lives.

I have noted many times before that I am a firm believer in the notion that what we look for is generally what we see. So those people who spend their days looking for things to criticize find them everywhere, and people who look for the good find good at every turn.

What would happen if instead of avoiding or grudgingly accepting the annoying people in our lives—the ones we’ve never learned to like—we deliberately look for their kindness? Maybe it’s not evident on the surface, but if we look deeper, we’re going to find it. Maybe that board or committee member who sets everyone’s teeth on edge with their negativity and self-promotion does pro-bono work in underserved communities. Or maybe we can appreciate their commitment to the organization even if we struggle to appreciate their methods. Maybe that neighbor who complains about everything and yells at kids for making too much noise loves animals and takes care of wounded birds. And maybe his kindness is masked by shyness, fear, or social ineptitude.

What if, knowing our path is going to cross with a person we have not been able to like, we determine that we will look for their kindness and find a way for their kindness and ours to intersect? We will go beyond merely gritting our teeth and tolerating the person to recognizing their kindness and welcoming them into our lives.

I’m lucky that there are very few people in my life whom I dislike. Over the years I’ve seen that people I may initially feel some aversion toward become quite likable once I get to know them. They didn’t change, I did. Everything changes once I turn off that judge-y part of me and recognize that a behavior I find displeasing may be the result of fear, uncertainty, or clumsiness. We’re all just doing the best we can, and for most of us our best will always be imperfect, since we are a work-in-progress until the day we die.

To overcome any dislike I may feel, I’ve been trying to look for the kindness in those few objectionable people I encounter. Kindness is there—in nearly everyone—and it’s surprisingly easy to find. What I’m learning is that I am better able to separate the person from their behaviors. So I can say now I appreciate that person, even if I don’t like or understand some of their actions. There are exceptions to every rule and I am finding Donald Trump to be that exception. I’m sure he has likable qualities—he’d be the first to say so—but appreciation for him has not been easy to muster.

There are bound to be some people who seem to defy all efforts to be seen as likable. They’re in our lives for a reason, and an important one. From them, we learn tolerance, or perhaps patience, or perhaps we recognize some quality of our own which in them is magnified to a degree that is instantly offensive. If nothing else, perhaps we can appreciate them for their role as being a warning to others to not behave this way (thanks, Donald!). With these few individuals our choice then becomes whether to let them negatively influence our behaviors and beliefs, or to look harder for their kindness, and to extend kindness as best we can and be grateful for what we have learned from them.

We never go wrong if we look for the kindness.

“I have learned silence from the talkative, toleration from the intolerant, and kindness from the unkind.” (Khalil Gibran)

7 thoughts on “Being Kind To People We Don’t Like

  1. “…a plaguing irritation that brings clouds to otherwise sunshiny days.”
    As my high school friend told me once, “Sing it, Sister!”
    Sometimes we don’t like someone *just because*–they don’t even have to be so ornery, obstinate, or petulant… Or we are the only ones who see them as such, right? There is this idea, Debbie Ford wrote about it, that the things we despise most in others are what we despise most in ourselves. That was tough to take! Accepting this idea takes patience, humility, and kindness–toward self and others at the same time. It can be exhausting! And it’s worth the effort, for sure–this is the origin of world, peace, no? 🙂


    • Thanks, Catherine, for your thoughtful comments. I think Debbie Ford was right about the traits in others that push our own buttons the most are traits we share to some degree—or perhaps they bring to light parts of ourselves we’ve yet to reconcile. Yes, acceptance takes all those things you named—patience, humility, kindness—and yes, it IS worth the effort. So good to hear from you!


  2. Oh yes – radical kindness indeed! You remind me of a quote from Abraham Lincoln, “I don’t like that man, I need to get to know him better.” If only we’d make an effort to know one another better!


    • What a great quote by Lincoln, Jan! It’s going up on the Resource page. How true that not liking someone often says more about us than about them. Thanks for reading, and for your comment.


  3. Donna, this post is so timely I didn’t even want to read it! Because I’d rather hang onto the anger I’m feeling towards a rude and grumpy neighbor, thank you very much. 🙂 Now that I have read it, thanks for the re-centering. (Though I’m with you on the Trump exception. Perhaps the only thing I can appreciate about him is that he’s been the #1 reason I’ve been on a news fast. Ah, bliss!)


    • Thanks, Kris. We have a rude and grumpy neighbor, too. Fortunately, our paths rarely cross…though he provides great entertainment value to the ‘hood. Maybe every neighborhood has one. As long as it’s not us! Your news fast is a wise and healthy thing–my next post is going to touch on that a bit. Thanks for the great and timely comment … and also your honesty about grumpy neighbor!


  4. Pingback: Brace Yourself for an Epidemic of Bad Behavior | A Year of Living Kindly

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