Be Kind to Unkind People, They Need it Most

Thursday, August 11, 2016 · 10 Comments

To be human is to be in relationship with difficult people.

The reality is if all the difficult people in our lives felt deep kindness in their hearts, they would cease to be difficult people. As Thich Nhat Hanh says, “Peace in oneself, peace in the world.”

Aside from learning how to create a calm and stable mind, one of the months in my 6-month global online program A Course in Mindful Living (coming early October, 2016) is spent entirely on learning how to realize the power of compassion and connection in our lives formally and informally. This not only impacts us, but the people around us, and the emotional contagion of it can create immensely beneficial ripple effects.

There’s an informal practice that I’ve been doing for a while that is so simple and yet so impactful in working with difficult people and also bringing a sense of balance and perspective in the moment, it’s almost shocking to me. I live in Los Angeles, California which is well known as a city with one of the highest degrees of traffic. If we were to be able to peek into the average LA driver’s brain I think you’d see a hyperactive amygdala and most of the blood flow moving out of the prefrontal cortex. In other words, LA drivers can be a large group of difficult people with emotions and stress running high.

One day while I was driving here I was cut off by some sports car who seemed to be speeding weaving in and out of the car lanes. My teeth locked together and my shoulders tensed and what went through my mind is only appropriate on HBO.

In that moment I realized how tense I was and likely how out of control that driver was. It made me think of all the cars on the road and how many people were very likely tense in their cars.

That simple recognition sparked the beginning of something important.

My shoulders dropped a bit and the question arose, “What is it that I’m actually needing right now?” The word “ease” came to mind.

So I said…

“May I be at ease…” (Me)
“May you be at ease…” (The out of control sports car driver)
“May we all be at ease…” (All the drivers on the road)
Doing this simple three part practice took me less than 30 seconds and rapidly transformed my experience from disconnection and rage into connection and balance.

To me, happiness means that I have a rock solid internal sense that no matter what comes my way, I’m going to be okay.

This practice gives me that feeling. It makes me move beyond seeing the other driver as just another jerk on the road (in other words, an object) and instead as a person. It gives me the experience that I’m actually okay.

You don’t have to be on the road to test drive this. I strongly suggest giving this a shot when dealing with difficult people and seeing what you notice.

Warning: It just might create a whole lot of peace in yourself.

And as I quoted earlier, “Peace in yourself, peace in the world.”


Elisha Goldstein, PhD

Creator of the 6-month global online program A Course in Mindful Living.

difficult people

Adapted from Mindfulness and Psychotherapy


  1. March 12, 2017 at 12:07 am

    Thanks for this Elisha, such a simple and powerful practice. I think we could all use a little more ease in our daily lives.

  2. August 24, 2016 at 1:23 am

    This message is perfectly timed as the school year begins for me next week and the anxiety that comes with that has been building for several weeks now. My principal is a narcissistic, controlling person making an already stressful job more difficult. This is a tool I can see myself truly using when having to deal with her. Thank you!
    I stumbled on your book Uncovering Happiness this summer. Another teacher and I are reading it together and using the tool kit to help us as we go through the school year.

    • Elisha Goldstein
      August 29, 2016 at 8:43 am

      Wonderful Diane, stay connected! Warmly ~ Elisha

  3. Sharon
    August 18, 2016 at 2:46 pm

    Hi Elisha, I find this mantra very comforting. It allows me to draw back to myself in the moment and as you say, makes ‘things’ become human, as after all that’s what we are. Thank you.

  4. Lina Rosin
    August 18, 2016 at 2:43 pm

    Love your generosity reminder and to me one of the most helpful practices. I look forward to your daily emails and is first thing i read when wake up right before my meditation with cup of warm water or coffee in my hand.
    Warm thank you.

  5. Marisa Prado Vieira
    August 18, 2016 at 12:30 pm

    Hi Elisha,
    My name is Marisa and I’m from Brazil.
    I’ve been following your daily moments since October last year when I took part in the Mindfulness Summit, although this is the first time I’ve posted a comment.
    I’d just like to let you know how much I appreciate your comments and tips. I’m a great fan of yours. Congrats on the good job!!! This one about being kind to unkind people was very useful to me.
    Like I heard doing the summit, meditation is not just about sitting on the cushion. That’s the easy part. It’s actually about what you do and how you respond (and not react) the rest of the day. Thank you so much for your daily gifts! God bless you! Namaste!!!

    • Elisha Goldstein
      August 18, 2016 at 2:21 pm

      Thank you Marisa!

  6. Robert Haile
    August 18, 2016 at 12:16 pm

    Being kind to unkind people is a challenge that I can only attempt one at a a time.

  7. August 17, 2016 at 2:53 pm

    Hi Elisha,
    Powerful quote on the picture. What I think that you can’t help and understand everyone. Of course, you should try to help most of them, but some units don’t seek help. In some cases, it’s probably impossible to give them a hand as they always know best and don’t see that the issue is on their part. Do you have any idea what to do in this situation?

    • Elisha Goldstein
      August 18, 2016 at 2:22 pm

      HI Szymon, for this one I might default to an informal lovingkindness practice, “May you be at ease, May I be at ease, May we all be at ease.” – this is a form of mental generosity if the person is unable to receive any other support. Warmly, Elisha

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