People who say “be kind, you don’t know what someone else is going through” lack this key understanding of emotional intelligence

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Last Updated on March 14, 2023 by the thought method co.

written by humans – backed by science 

Making the rounds on social media for almost a decade, “be kind, you don’t know what someone else is going through,” is a staple of aspiring leaders and mental health advocates alike. 

People share the quote in hopes it will influence personal and cultural change. Personal level, people will be kinder. Cultural level, kindness will be prioritized. 

At face value, the quote may seem impactful, but as a change management and emotional intelligence expert, I see this quote for what it is, meaningless. 

Unfortunately, other than being well intentioned and possibly influencing a momentary kind gesture, this quote has no power to induce any long-term personal or cultural change. 

Let’s talk about how we can use emotional intelligence to actually induce change and influence kindness. 


Influence is a key element of emotional intelligence. It involves having and impact on, or gaining the support of others. When we effectively influence others, we do cool things like:

  • encourage teamwork
  • get executive support for projects
  • lead effective change management 

“Be kind, you don’t know what someone else is going through,” is not influential. It is conditional and encourages others to be kind out of guilt. Guilt, while momentarily effective, will not result in long-term change, and will lead to resentment. 

Internal motivation

You influence others by focusing on their internal motivation. What speaks to them? What’s their why? 

The currently accepted belief that people do things out of the kindness of their heart with no benefit to them is limiting and naïve. It’s simply not how the human brain functions. 

And the idea that people will be encouraged to help others because they do not know what others are going through is even more naïve. So what we don’t know what others are going through? Sure, it sucks if someone is hurting, and we want them to be happy, but really, so what, we are all going through it.

People do things because of internal motivation that comes from a place of receiving. Basically, we do things (even charity) because we anticipate something in return. 

In psychology, this is called a helpers high. It feels good to help people, someone who is charitable is motivated to help by that good feeling. A parent who helps their child, boss who helps their employees, it all feels good to them. 

We are literally wired to help others and get to feel good in return. This in no way reduces the charitable or kind act. In fact, it makes it even more impressive. 

Which leads us to what will actually influence kindness

What we need to say to actually induce change

We can go a few ways here.

  1. Using automaticity, we can reduce the quote to say “be kind” and hope that with repetition, it will increase kindness in others
  2. Using what we know about internal motivation, we can say, “kindness has been scientifically proven to increase self-esteem and well-being, be kind”
  3. We can use both options above, the shorter quote as a friendly reminder for the longer, internally motivating version

In the second example, people will see the benefit of being kind, which will then encourage them to be kind. 

Kindness has been scientifically proven to improve mental and physical health. Kind people get benefits like increased confidence, self-esteem, and reduced stressed. In fact, when you know all the benefits of kindness, it actually makes people who aren’t kind look like they are self-sabotaging, are they OK?

You do things out of selfishness and everyone else does too

We need to remove this limiting, fairy tale belief that people do things out of the goodness of their hearts, acknowledge that there is no shame in balanced selfishness and doing things that make us feel good. 

At first, it can be unnerving to realize people only help others due to what they will get in return. However, it is actually amazing that people choose to help others out of love instead of guilt or obligation. 

We need to move out of the outdated thinking that charity and kindness are akin to sainthood, and we need to move into the scientific fact that being kind to others benefits both the person being kind and the person they are being kind to. There is no shame in that. Be kind.