Please Don’t Be Mean. Just Be Extra Kind.

5 Min Read

On Sunday, my best friend Charli called me from her home in Maryland. "Why do people have to be so mean?" she lamented. "Why?"

She recounted her experience earlier that day getting mobile pick-up from Starbucks. (Oh, how I miss Starbucks.) A man named "Matt" in front of her snapped, rolling his eyes and growling about how his fancy coffee drink and almond croissant weren't ready on time. He did place a mobile pick order in advance after all.

"I told you I ordered it, it's right there. Look at those bags, see my croissant is there!" Matt growled, pointing to the corner section where items were piled up. Belittling the barista who was working in already understaffed conditions. "I want my almond croissant."

"There's no reason to be that nasty over a croissant," Charli shared in our conversation. "People just need to be kind."

Whether it's a Starbucks mobile pick up order that can't be located for "Matt." A work deliverable that wasn't completed. An assignment the teacher asked your child to do over. A team member showing up late to a meeting. An email that was sent to the wrong person. The store selling you expired yogurts. The parent who is loudly on her own work conference call and won't put her kid on mute during Zoom Circle Time. The list goes on and on and on.

We are all under a lot of pressure under COVID-19. And, sometimes, the easiest thing to do or say in the moment… it's also the wrong thing. It's the unkind thing. It's the mean thing. Because in a time where we have very little control, well, being mean gives us some control back for a short time. It's a fleeting sense of satisfaction — to unleash on someone else, to exert control over them, to be in control when you have no semblance of control otherwise — with often lasting and damaging consequences.

We are all under a lot of pressure under COVID-19. And, sometimes, the easiest thing to do or say in the moment… it's also the wrong thing.

Last year, I wrote a column for SWAAY entitled Please Don't Mistake My Kindness For Weakness. I argued that kindness was one of the most undervalued leadership qualities in our world today. The question I had asked was how could we afford not to be kind? Could we afford not to lead with kindness?

Pre-COVID-19, kindness was still a synonym for being a pushover, for being weak, for being ineffective. Now, during COVID-19, it's a synonym for strength, power, and influence.

Now, in this pandemic, kindness, compassion and empathy are the hallmark traits of leaders who will survive — those who put their people first. These leaders know that when you care for your people, your people will care for your business. Businesses don't pivot without people. And great results during a pandemic won't come without kindness.

The question I had on my mind last year was, can women afford to be kind as they lead? I walked the line, the careful dance of being too nice or too witchy, too trusting or too controlling, too compassionate or the ice queen/dragon lady/the Devil who wears Prada. (Disclaimer: I don't actually own any Prada clothing, but that still has a nice ring to it.)

Could we afford not to lead with kindness?

And now, it would seem, that kindness was and always has been my superpower. That, along with finding a vaccine for COVID-19, kindness might just be what gets us through this pandemic to the other side, to life post-COVID-19 and our next new normal.

So please don't be mean. The next time you want to snap, have the last word, or just unleash yourself on someone else, remember this phrase that my father always reminded us of: "If you don't have something nice to say, don't say anything at all."

And if someone is mean to you, you don't need to be mean back. You don't need to match every unkind word for another unkind word, you don't need to keep score, you don't need to bounce your anger back and forth like a ping pong game. Don't forget that silence is a powerful thing — as Michele Obama says so poignantly, "When they go low, we go high."

I am not suggesting that you be a doormat. If people are repeatedly unkind to you, you don't want them in your life. If you have control over their contact with you, change it.

And though you can't always avoid the people you work with who are unkind, you can act as a mirror, reflecting their behavior back at them. "I can hear that your voice is elevated, and I can see that your face is red and tense. And what you specifically said to me was unkind. Is there something else that is upsetting you?"

Pre-COVID-19, kindness was still a synonym for being a pushover, for being weak, for being ineffective. Now, during COVID-19, it's a synonym for strength, power, and influence.

Often times, people don't understand the impact of their words and their actions. Being a mirror can help them understand their impact. And some will even apologize for their behavior.

However, the truly mean people simply don't care, no matter how much of a mirror you try to be for them. And in those situations, I focus on the kindness I can put back into the world to counter their meanness. Because in the end, like any good Disney fairytale, I always believe kindness will win. Afterall, the Disney villain is never the one smiling at the very end as the credits roll.

There's never a good time to be mean, and even if there was one it certainly isn't now. We have no idea what's happening in each other's families or in each other's homes behind closed doors. We have no idea what's happening in our minds. Behind all those beautiful pictures on Instagram of homemade banana bread, inspirational quotes, and drive-by birthday parties, there is sadness, there is grief, and there is pain.

So please just be kind. Be extra, extra kind.

3 min read

Help! My Friend Is a No Show

Email armchairpsychologist@swaaymedia.com to get the advice you need!

Help! My Friend Is a No Show

Dear Armchair Psychologist,

I have a friend who doesn't reply to my messages about meeting for dinner, etc. Although, last week I ran into her at a local restaurant of mine, it has always been awkward to be friends with her. Should I continue our friendship or discontinue it? We've been friends for a total four years and nothing has changed. I don't feel as comfortable with her as my other close friends, and I don't think I'll ever be able to reach that comfort zone in pure friendship.


Dear Sadsies,

I am sorry to hear you've been neglected by your friend. You may already have the answer to your question, since you're evaluating the non-existing bond between yourself and your friend. However, I'll gladly affirm to you that a friendship that isn't reciprocated is not a good friendship.

I have had a similar situation with a friend whom I'd grown up with but who was also consistently a very negative person, a true Debby Downer. One day, I just had enough of her criticism and vitriol. I stopped making excuses for her and dumped her. It was a great decision and I haven't looked back. With that in mind, it could be possible that something has changed in your friend's life, but it's insignificant if she isn't responding to you. It's time to dump her and spend your energy where it's appreciated. Don't dwell on this friend. History is not enough to create a lasting bond, it only means just that—you and your friend have history—so let her be history!

- The Armchair Psychologist

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