A woman and a man argue while working

Have you ever noticed that sometimes people are difficult to get along with? Yeah, me too.

In fact, at one time in my life, I was surrounded by difficult people.

My husband, a college basketball coach, consistently missed his three-point shots into the laundry hamper, leaving me to play pick up.

My children insisted on feeding the dog under the table, expecting me to deal with the residue of a goldendoodle’s upset stomach.

The family ahead of us at the donut counter always had to take the last unfilled chocolate Long John, leaving my family with gross Bavarian cream filling.

My coworker clipped his fingernails at work.

The other drivers on the road couldn’t remember who went first at the four-way stop.

The list is truly endless. Difficult people are so difficult. They get under our skin. They irritate us like crazy. Even when the situation is over or the person walks away, we still can’t stop thinking about how annoyed we are and all the things we wish we would’ve said.

In 2011, feeling passionless and pointless about life, self-medicating with rum, cigarettes, and food, I stumbled upon a hard truth about difficult people.

The most difficult person was me.

Ouch. That one hurt. The reason everyone else in the world seemed so hard to get along with was because I was hard to get along with.

Whether I was at home with my people, at my job with my coworkers, or at the grocery store with complete strangers, the one common denominator was me.

Now, I’m not saying that you’re the problem if you feel like there are a lot of difficult people in the world. I’m just saying that’s how it happened in my situation.

I realized I was looking through a lens that said, “Life sucks. People are rude. Nothing good ever happens to me.”

I was expecting people to be difficult. And therefore, I immediately noticed when they were.

But guess what?

There are other lenses out there.

I had an experience with a little act of kindness back in 2011 that changed my life. Seriously.

I gave someone some money (not a lot, $60), and it felt good. It felt so good. I had a high unlike anything I had experienced before from my rum, cigarettes, or food.

That feeling made me curious, so I tried it again (not with $60 though—I’m not made of money, people).

Then I started writing a weekly newspaper column about kindness. We called it Kindness is Contagious, and it ran in printed newspapers and online in North Dakota and Minnesota from 2011–2021. I shared people’s stories of kindness—kindness they did and kindness they received and how it made them feel.

Within one year of writing that column, I had quit drinking, smoking, and overeating.

I fell in love with my husband. I began to see my kids as adorable creatures. I stopped feeling personally offended by the people at the donut counter.

What happened to create such a huge turnaround in my life? It wasn’t therapy, new medication, or a self-help book (although I do support all those methods).

It was God. He took off my lens of negativity and gave me new glasses. He allowed me to see the world through the eyes of love.

I began noticing the ways people were being good to me and good to each other. I began to see opportunities to be kind and act on the promptings of the Holy Spirit.

Life became so much fun when I woke up each morning wondering where kindness would greet me that day.

Now, we’ve already determined you’re not a difficult person. It’s everybody else. But do you feel like maybe you could use a little tune up?

I can help.

Don’t worry, this isn’t like a diet plan or a monthly budget. You don’t have to make room for kindness in your calendar. You just have to pick one of the following tips and think about it throughout your day. That’s it. Just think about it occasionally and see if you want to give it a try. Then, when you’re ready, go for it!

Here’s the first tip:

  1. Expect people to be kind. Yep, change that negativity lens. Take off those glasses and put on the lens of love. Walk through your day looking for people who hold the door open or let you merge into traffic or tell you that you look nice in that new shirt. If you’re having a hard time seeing the kindness of others, be an example to them. You will be the one who benefits.

    Give, and it will be given to you. A good measure, pressed down, shaken together and running over, will be poured into your lap. For with the measure you use, it will be measured to you (Luke 6:38, NIV).

    Just for fun, I’ll share The Message translation of that same verse.

    Don’t pick on people, jump on their failures, criticize their faults—unless, of course, you want the same treatment. Don’t condemn those who are down; that hardness can boomerang. Be easy on people; you’ll find life a lot easier. Give away your life; you’ll find life given back, but not merely given back—given back with bonus and blessing. Giving, not getting, is the way. Generosity begets generosity (Luke 6:38, MSG).

    Which leads us to the second tip. 
  2. Give people the benefit of the doubt. When people let the door slam in your face, assume they had something else on their mind or just didn’t see you there. When the cashier is crabby, think about how hard it must be for them to stand on their feet all day. When you’re certain someone did something just to make you mad, refuse to be easily offended.

    When you do get offended, and you’re pretty sure it was on purpose, remember that it’s not your battle. As we read in Exodus 14:14 (NLT),“The Lord Himself will fight for you. Just stay calm.”

    While you’re trying to stay calm, think about our third and final tip.
  3. Smile. Smiling might seem too simple to be effective, but trust me, it’s not. Lots of people think they have a pleasant expression on their face when they greet someone, but they don’t. If they aren’t actively smiling, they often have a syndrome known as “Crabby Resting Face.”

This is evident in people who aren’t angry or upset about anything, but since they aren’t smiling, they sort of look like they’re ready to snap.

I’m not saying you are afflicted with Crabby Resting Face, but just in case, smile.

Many studies have indicated that people will change their own facial expression to match the expression of the person in front of them. If you look angry, chances are the person you are interacting with will become angry and start to look defensive. The giver and the receiver join in the same facial expression and emotion. It’s called facial mimicry. Look it up! It’s interesting stuff!

Even if we aren’t totally feeling it, being cognizant of the vibe we are putting out to others is important if we want to draw more kindness into our lives—and if we want to live the way Jesus asked us to live.

As believers, we have an obligation to behave like believers, knowing something better is coming for us in eternity. That right there should give us something to smile about. But heaven isn’t here quite yet, so we can brighten another’s day in the here and now by wiping the negativity off our faces and bringing that inner joy from our lips to our eyes until our whole face says, “Hey, friend, I’m here for you. We’re in this together.”

As Proverbs 15:13 (MSG) says, “A cheerful heart brings a smile to your face; a sad heart makes it hard to get through the day.”

We can add a little gladness to someone’s heart with just a simple smile. What a gift of kindness to give to another person.

Okay, so there you go! Three tips to tuck into your back pocket. Or tape to your computer. Or lay on your dashboard. Or etch into your bathroom mirror.

  1. Expect people to be kind.
  2. Give people the benefit of the doubt.
  3. Smile.

I know sometimes you feel defeated. I know sometimes you get distracted. I know you’re not looking for one more thing to add to your plate.

Kindness isn’t one more thing to do. It’s a way of life. It’s a new lens to help you see people and situations the way God sees them. He’s not panicked or overwhelmed, so there must be something to it.

Join me, Nicole Phillips, on The Kindness Podcast where I talk with a variety of guests about what happens when we begin to live our lives through the lens of kindness.

“As believers, we have an obligation to behave like believers, knowing something better is coming for us in eternity.”

—Nicole Phillips

“Kindness isn’t one more thing to do. It’s a way of life. It’s a new lens to help you see people and situations the way God sees them.”

—Nicole Phillips

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