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How can we be Kinder to Each Other?

Updated: Aug 12, 2021

In the Yoga sutras of Patanjali it says

‘By cultivating attitudes of friendliness toward those who are happy, compassion to those who are suffering, delight toward the virtuous and equanimity toward detractors, one’s thoughts are purified and the obstacles to self-realisation are lessened.’ {Yoga Sutra 1.33}

In Hinduism, Brahman is the underlying essence of consciousness, the ocean; and Atman is the essence of the seemingly individual consciousness; the wave. Any harm done towards another living being then, is harm done towards oneself. Cultivating the attitudes in Sutra 1.33 is suggested as a path towards ‘lessening obstacles to self realisation.

Upon realising we are all manifestations of a greater consciousness, it becomes easier to be less judgmental and harsh towards others because we see ourselves reflected back in the other. Harms become less personal, as they are unconscious actions which cause damage to the perpetrator as they do others who they impact/are directed towards. In this spirit of cultivating more compassion for my fellow human beings, I want to share some of the actions that I practice to help me behave more kindly on a day to day basis.

1. I consume more ‘good news’ about kind and community based actions. If all I watch is the news, I end up wrung out and angry, with a pretty skewed notion of humanity. Most news stories are based around conflict, whether that’s a war, the pandemic or attacks upon individuals in the local community. At the start of the pandemic, I joined a facebook group called ‘the kindness pandemic.’ The only posts allowed are those with stories of how people have taken kind actions towards a friend or a neighbour. It has proven a real tonic to the daily feed of misery from the news. It makes sense that if all you hear every day are stories of how we act terribly towards our fellows, then you will start to assume the worst of humans in general. Conversely, if you start to focus upon the countless stories of human kindness, then your perceptions start to shift. I see this as a ‘reframing.’ I have come to realise that all genuine change begins with a recognition and then a perceptual ‘reframing.’ The vast majority of suffering in my own life can, and has been alleviated by shifting my perceptions.

2. I try to share in conversation with a continual sense of curiosity; ask questions to listen, hear and understand, instead of planning a retort with the aim of impressing others or winning an argument. Social media comment threads are fascinating places, for all the wrong reasons. I rarely join in the chat, because there are all manner of dismissive and argumentative comments, rooted in reactivity and not always kind. These are places where it is easy to be unkind. Hidden behind a virtual wall of relative anonymity, it is easy to dismiss and ridicule those we won’t ever meet in person, because there are seemingly no consequences. Except, if we go back to the yoga sutra at the start of this piece, then unkindness to others is an obstacle to self-realisation, because in an act of unkindness, we are also harming the self. Trying to stay curious, instead of judgmental when someone is saying something I vehemently disagree with can be a challenge. It becomes possible with awareness of my inner emotions and experience to the extent that I can allow them to arise without reactivity. This is only possible with continual conscious practice. Yoga and meditation help me with this ability. I can lessen my reactivity, and realise that it is ok for another person to say and think things that go completely against my world view, and that is ok. Nor it does not make my view of the world/topic any less valid.

3. I start with myself. By learning to be kind and loving to myself; I am able to show my love and care for others with a greater depth. I can also fully accept the love I am given, rather than closing off emotional or unintentionally pushing the giver away. This is what used to happen unconsciously in the past, when I still harboured the unconscious belief that I was not worthy of love or care. This is not an easy fix. It takes time and patience, but it is worth it to feel a greater peace of mind and become more comfortable in my own skin.

I used to have a very unkind inner monologue that I was not initially consciously aware of; despite it fuelling my anxiety, depression and robust self-loathing at the time. Through meditation and talk therapy, I became aware of that inner critic, and of just how constant and unkind it really was. It would tell me things like: you don’t belong here, sooner or later everyone will realise it’s a mistake and you’ll lose your job. You don’t have anything interesting or relevant to say, you might as well shut up. Nobody listens to you because you don’t matter. You aren’t enough. You are getting fat. No one likes you, they all talk about you behind your back. This was the daily stream of inner dialogue that I would carry around inside my mind when my mental health was at its worst. You can see why I felt so depressed and anxious; I felt like an imposter in my job, lonely and unliked, unattractive and unseen.

Before I could begin to tackle the issue of my inner critic, I had to consciously notice it, to hear it and listen to it. This meant I had to find the courage to sit still and begin to listen to and feel what was going on inside of me. If you’ve ever suffered with anxiety or depression, you’ll know just how difficult this can be. Many people will do anything they can to rush around from one task to the next in order to avoid feeling their feelings or sitting with themselves. However, this act of deep listening is very important. Because it is not until I knew what my inner critic was saying , that I could begin to think about where those stories came from or to challenge them in the present.

Because our biology means that we are wired to detect threats, we tend to notice and hang onto negative input over more pleasant input. For example, when giving feedback to students at school, I might give three positive comments to every ‘area for improvement’, yet my students will regularly ignore the positive and go straight to the comment they perceive as being more critical or ‘negative,’ in their discussions with me.

Try this yourself, see how easy it is to recall something negative someone has said to you, versus a compliment. I’ve heard it said that negative comments are ‘sticky’ and positive ones are like ‘teflon.’ With some exploration, I found that many of the scripts my inner critic was running in my mind, were old scripts from childhood. Scripts based upon abandonments, traumatic events, school bullies or said unconsciously by a relative, repeating the scripts from their own childhood. Once I could notice when they were happening, I could then work on disengaging with the thoughts or even challenging them in the moment. To get to this point requires awareness; which can be cultivated in talk therapy, or through long term yoga/meditation. My experience is that once I quietened my inner critic, I could start to develop a healthier, more compassionate and supportive inner monologue. It then followed that my relationships with others improved. I know on a deeper level what kindness and compassion mean, and I believe that I deserve them, so it follows that I seek out people who think and act alike.

4. I release judgment: as much as I try to be kind, I can be as judgmental as the next person. As I see it, judgment is the gateway to unkindness, if not an initial act of unkindness in itself. It is an act of mind that immediately separates us from the ‘other.’ By othering another person or group of people, the possibility for empathy is quashed. If we refuse to see how another person or people are like ourselves, then how can we put ourselves in their shoes or feel compassion towards them? We see this all the time in the media when they use dehumanising language to talk about refugees as ‘hoards’ or to a lesser extent when groups of people are labelled by their political or religious affiliations alone; ‘Tories’ or ‘Muslims’. By othering a group with a label, it is easier to separate oneself mentally from this group instead of seeing the common humanity in which we all share.

5. I try to avoid the terrible temptation of ‘should,’ ‘could,’ and ‘would’. These are closely involved in the unkind act of judgment. It is easy to say how you think others ‘should’ behave, or how they ‘could’ve’ done this, or if you were them, you ‘would’ve’ done this or that. But how helpful is this kind of discourse? It is very tempting to indulge in this kind of thinking, othering groups of people, but how do we really know how we would behave in anyone’s else’s situation? Even if I have personally experienced a situation, I can’t possibly be fully aware of all of the factors which might have influenced someone else's decision to behave in a particular way.

So, to summarise, these are the five ways I try to be a bit kinder in my daily life:

  1. Consuming more 'good' human interest news

  2. Conversing with curiosity over reactivity

  3. Learning to be kind to myself

  4. Releasing judgment

  5. Resisting the shoulds coulds and woulds.

I'm not always 100% successful, but I'm a work in progress. Progress, not perfection is one of my mantras. To finish today, I'd like to share with you a beautiful heart-opening meditation, that disperses the energy from the fourth chakra Anahata and disperses it to radiate outwards. It helps us to be more compassionate, empathic and kind, starting with ourselves!

SAT KARTAAR MEDITATION: To help you to love and be loved. To help you drop judgment and criticism and see yourself in the other.

MUSIC: Here is the track I use to meditate to this mantra

  1. Sit cross legged, with a straight back and your chin lightly tucked in to protect the back of the neck.

  2. Have a light jalandhar bandh throughout (which means- gently squeeze the muscles of the pelvic floor, sex organs and rectum, to seal the energy in at the base of the spine.)

  3. Start with the hands in prayer pose, thumbs lightly touching your sternum, in the centre of the chest for the 'SAT' part of the mantra.

  4. Make the palms face outwards, fingers face upwards and have the arms extended out from the shoulders half way. 'KAR'

  5. For the TAAR part pf the mantra, extend your arms parallel with the ground at shoulder height, palms facing outwards.

  6. Repeat the three part movement with the mantra for anywhere between 3 and 11 minutes. Feel the love!

If you have any tips you'd like to share, or 'good news' kindness stories, I'd love to hear about them! With Love and Light to you all.

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