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Kill Them With Kindness?

Whether it’s the loud classmate who rubs you the wrong way or the coworker with whom you always seem to clash, we all have those people in our lives. It may be that their mere presence irritates you, or that a legitimate grievance lies at the root of your distaste. Whatever the cause, bumping elbows with less favorable acquaintances is inevitable in the pursuit of higher education and/or a career.

When we’re forced to deal with these individuals, particularly on a regular basis, some will advocate the “kill them with kindness” approach: to tap into your bottomless reserves of patience and goodwill and refuse to let them get a rise out of you. This approach has its merits in a workplace environment as co-workers are expected to achieve the bare minimum of getting along in the name of professionalism, and being at least on civil terms with someone facilitates collaboration on a larger scale. Class, as well, is generally much more bearable if one can avoid unpleasant interactions with his or her peers on top of the existing stressors of lectures and homework. However, some interpretations of the phrase denote negative aspects to this approach; if you exhaust yourself by giving too much, it could be hurtful to the other person as well as yourself.

While we don’t have to be best friends with everyone in our lives, the trick is to find a healthy balance between keeping those we clash with at a distance and being generally pleasant and accommodating. Making an effort to show a little courtesy can go miles to make you more approachable and well-liked, and the ability to treat those around you with grace and consideration is the hallmark of a mature, well-adjusted individual (particularly in a society where some fear that “common” courtesy is becoming not so common).

With that said, there will always be those people who we deem not worth the time and energy we invest in them. If you’re the optimistic type—or are having trouble letting go of a toxic friend, ex, etc.—it can be tempting to continue extending excessive kindness to someone. But it’s important to remember that there is a significant difference between decency and rarely-reciprocated goodwill toward a toxic individual. Sometimes, the best choice is to maintain civility but refrain from seeking further interaction.

While it’s not healthy to constantly analyze your relationships trying to uncover everyone’s motivations for why they might do the things they do, it’s profitable to examine your interactions with others and take into consideration what will make your life easier. Does gritting your teeth and making the choice to avoid a potential petty argument with a suitemate help keep the peace and your stress levels at bay? If so, great! Do your repeated, rejected attempts to reach out to a clearly antipathetic or uninterested person leave you feeling drained, frustrated, and/or confused? You might want to rethink that one—we’ve all been there.