Offering Kindness to Difficult People

Yael Eckstein  |  December 1, 2020

Esau meet Jacob

then you are to say, ‘They belong to your servant Jacob. They are a gift sent to my lord Esau, and he is coming behind us.’” — Genesis 32:18

Each week in synagogue, Jews read through the Torah from Genesis to Deuteronomy. The Torah portion for this week is Vayishlach, which means “and he sent,” from Genesis 32:4—36:43.

Recently, after taking my son to a doctor’s appointment, I cringed when the doctor asked us to make a follow-up appointment with his secretary. As I had already noticed when we checked in that day, the secretary was not in a good mood. I heard her speaking to other parents in a very impatient and angry tone. I mentally prepared as I stood in the long line of people waiting to speak with her. Yet, when our turn finally came, I heard my inner voice say to me, “Be kind!”

The first thing I did when I approached the secretary was smile, and if nothing else, it made me calmer and happier. Then, as she took our medical card, I complimented her beautifully manicured nails. Now, the secretary smiled and seemed to soften.

Finally, as she began to search for a time for our next appointment, I acknowledged what a difficult job she had helping so many people in such a short amount of time and thanked her for her patience. Suddenly, she became kind and accommodating in finding an appointment that suited our schedule.

Better Offering Kindness

After that encounter, I thought about how differently it could have gone had I decided to be forceful or defensive. Instead, I offered kindness to what appeared to be a difficult person and our entire interaction changed. Not only was it pleasant for both the secretary and me, but quite possibly, it affected others who spoke with her that day.

In this week’s Torah portion, we learn that Jacob anticipated a devastating attack from his brother Esau who had been seeking revenge since the day Jacob deceitfully secured the blessing of the firstborn from their father Isaac. One of the strategies that Jacob employed in order to deter the attack was to send his angry brother gifts of cattle.

Jacob deliberately instructed his men to space out the gifts so that Esau would receive them repeatedly. By the time Jacob and Esau finally met, Esau’s heart had softened so that instead of attacking his brother, the two immediately embraced.

Sometimes in life, we encounter challenging people. But instead of engaging in conflict, we are better off offering kindness. When it comes to dealing with difficult people, offering kindness is a far more pleasant approach, and often enough, more effective one, too.

Your Turn:

Who is that difficult person in your life? Try showering that person with kindness and notice the difference it makes!

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