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Big 5 Personality Traits

Why Kindness Can Be Mistaken For Weakness

The ability to be kind can actually be a show of strength.

Key points

  • Many people seem to equate exhibiting kindness with having some type of weakness or deficiency.
  • People who question or even despise kindness may be expressing fear, low self-esteem, or unresolved pain.
  • There are multiple reasons why exhibiting genuine kindness is truly a sign of strength.
  • True power is the ability to help others rather than the ability to hurt or exact revenge on people.
Olga Pankova/Getty Images
It truly takes strength and power to be truly kind.
Source: Olga Pankova/Getty Images

Being kind has kind of gotten a bad rap these days. Maybe you've heard people tell you that if you are kind, people will take advantage of you or take you for granted. Or that nice guys or gals finish last. Or that kindness is weakness. Or that no good deed goes unpunished. Or that in dating, people go for the jerks rather than the kind. Yes, many people seem to somehow equate exhibiting kindness with having some type of weakness or deficiency. But that's kind of missing the point. It's actually the opposite. It takes strength and power to be truly kind.

Sure, there are people who act kind—with the emphasis on act—because they are trying to cover up some kind of deficiency. There are those who act kind when they're afraid to stand up for themselves and display their true jerky nature. There are those who feel that they have to kiss ass in the dating world just to get a kiss and more. Sure, there are those who act kind to manipulate others, which is kind of awful. And, yes, there are those who act kind simply because they are naive and view the world with gigantic deer-in-headlight eyes. Sure, when someone is acting all kind, it does make sense to question that person's motives and true nature,

But what about when being genuinely kind? Why then do others not respect you and even try to take advantage of you? More often than not, it's more about them than you. They frequently are the ones with the weaknesses or deficiencies. But it's not as if they were necessarily born that way. After all, how many 5-year-olds go around muttering, "I gotta be ruthless" or "Since that person gave me a cookie. I've lost all respect for him?" Instead, somewhere along the way, these folks have learned to question or even despise kindness. For example, maybe they:

  • Are fearful: Fear can do a number on people. It can motivate them to wrap themselves in layers of defense mechanisms to prevent anyone from doing, basically, anything. I once had a friend, whom we'll call Suspicious O' Everyone, who was, yes, suspicious of everyone. He effectively went by the motto, "Take advantage of people before they can take advantage of you." Take a wild guess as to why he's now once my friend.
  • Have low self-esteem: Deep down, many people don't believe that they actually deserve kindness. They may be the living embodiment of the Groucho Marx line, “I don’t want to belong to any club that would accept me as one of its members.” If you are acting kind to them, they may be thinking that there must be something wrong with you.
  • Are too jaded and cynical: People can be like cats, sitting around judging you. Always judging you. So, if you are kind to them, they may be thinking, "Hmm, what's the angle?"
  • Have unresolved pain: It can be a real pain when people mistake your kindness for something else. When people are in pain, they may feel the need to lash out at others. And it may be easier to lash out at someone who is kind than someone who is mean.
  • Are actually self-centered jerks: Some people are genuine 100% all-natural, free-range jerks. They can subscribe to the "it's all about me, all the time" kind of philosophy that ranks kindness somewhere below belly button lint in their list of things to be respected.
Malte Mueller/Getty Images
People who do not appreciate genuine kindness may have some type of internal hurt/pain.
Source: Malte Mueller/Getty Images

All five are actually reasons why exhibiting genuine kindness is a sign of strength. It means that you are able to overcome any type of fear, cynicism, or internal pain that you may have. It means that you are willing to go against the grain when people around you may not be willing to do the same. It means that you are willing to risk being taken advantage of and not respected and know that you have the strength to overcome such things. It means that you are driven by an internal compass and not an external one.

Moreover, true power is the ability to help others rather than the ability to hurt or exact revenge on people. Practically anyone can hurt other people. All you need is an anonymous social media account. That is not the case with helping people. Really helping others is not as easy but, frankly, is a lot more fulfilling.

So, why not be more kind, genuinely kind? Why not kind of go against the grain? You may have heard that 1979 song "Cruel to Be Kind." In actuality, it can be quite cool to be kind.

More from Bruce Y. Lee M.D., M.B.A.
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