Exploring Kindness as a Bridge Between Our Terror of Rejection and Our Longing to Belong


By Steve Ray, HBI Advisory Board Member

Steve Ray is a groupwork facilitator who helps groups learn the art of working well together. In the hundreds of groups Steve has facilitated over 15 years, he believes that people’s ability to connect deeply with each other is often limited by their capacity to act with real kindness. He feels that the true potential of kindness to change the world has yet to be realized as disconnection from nature, each other and our own selves has become normalized. He puts forward a challenge that we need to consciously change the way we interact with others and bring kindness into all our relationships to overcome deep unconscious habits that limit the kindness that naturally flows to everyone, everything, everywhere. Explore more…

TO cultivate kindness and change the world, We must embrace forgiveness

As we continue to explore the path of cultivating our kindness, it is imperative that we look deep within ourselves and learn to shift our reactive and limiting pattern, including our understanding of others, so that this innate gift can be free to flow. Although we many find it very difficult to unhook what a person does or says from who they are, the reality is—our very essence is not what we do or have done in the past. We instinctively know this because we all have a deep need to forgive and be forgiven as well as the natural capacity to do so. Forgiveness says that we can all make mistakes AND we can all change, grow, let go of the past, find peace, move forward, and become better human beings, given the chance. Depending on the individuals or transgressions involved, forgiveness can be extremely hard work, however we all have the potential to experience profound healing and transformation…and of course, kindness, which is our primary nature, according to Rutger Bregman in his international bestseller Human Kind.

Forgiveness is a choice that brings healing, freedom and peace

When we have been wronged, granting forgiveness is the greatest gift we can give to ourselves. Making this choice frees us from being trapped in our pain and locked out of the possibility of experiencing healing and being at peace. In The Book of Forgiving, Nobel laureate Archbishop Desmond Tutu and his daughter Reverend Mpho Tutu guide readers in a life-changing four-step process of forgiveness: telling the story, naming the hurt, granting forgiveness, and renewing or releasing the relationship. Having witnessed some of the worst crimes people can inflict on each other, Archbishop Tutu, who died in 2021 at the age of 90, offers unique personal and collective insight on releasing the poison of anger and bitterness to transcend pain, trauma and hardship.

book of forgiving desmond tutu mpho tutu
“With each act of forgiveness, whether small or great, we move toward wholeness,” the authors write. “Forgiveness is how we bring peace to ourselves and our world.”

Our Capacity to Forgive is rooted in our own imperfection

To forgive another, we first need to acknowledge our own capacity for doing the wrong thing at times. It is from this honest recognition—that we are all flawed and have all made mistakes and harmed others—that the ability to forgive comes from. The reason we react to the wrongdoing of others is because we hold an internal reference point of what’s right and wrong based on the account we keep of our own wrongdoings. If we have not forgiven ourselves for things we have done, its simply not possible to forgive others for their actions. At the same time, shame can make us bury what we’ve done, so that we deny our less savory actions from the past, making it impossible to forgive ourselves. And since we are all witnesses to each other’s lives, if we choose to define a person as being this thing or that (i.e., through strong judgement and/or lack of forgiveness) then we become responsible in part for impeding their change and growth from happening. Whatever the story, our strong reaction to someone else’s ‘bad deeds’ should be the reminder that something is going on within us, and we need to attend to some inner work first so that we can ‘find it within ourselves’ to forgive them.

Unconditional Forgiveness as a Gift of Grace Allows Kindness to Blossom

We have to believe in each other, that the best is possible, even if that person is currently failing terribly in our eyes at every level. In these circumstances, choosing to forgive can be extremely challenging, especially if they fail to offer some degree of reparation or restitution or don’t express any remorse. We may feel like forgiving a person is somehow letting them off the hook. We might tell ourselves that someone needs to hold that person to account…and we’re going to do it! However, when we grant unconditional forgiveness it’s not dependent on the actions of others; it is a gift that’s freely given with no strings attached. At the heart level, this is forgiveness as a grace, and it frees both the victim and perpetrator.

Unconditional forgiveness is ultimately a foundation stone (which I wrote about in Part 2) for kindness. It allows us to move forward in life—to grow beyond being a victim—and it is from this peaceful, heart-centered, compassionate place that our innate kindness can freely flow, even in difficult circumstances.


We long to be seen and heard and valued more than anything in this world. It’s the ultimate proof that our life matters. It’s validation that we exist. When we understand this need within ourselves and others, we can start building connection through our words and actions, even with people who may be, for whatever reasons, driven by strong emotion in a particular moment. And even with people we don’t like.

How can we Practice Conscious Kindness and maintain Connection during Difficult Moments?

Strong emotion exists within us all and often erupts volcanically. When this happens, we literally become “deaf” to what’s being said. This is because the emotion triggers a fight/flight reaction in us, and we protect ourselves by disengaging from the situation. If we are able to be consciously kind during these emotionally charged or reactive moments, we will find words that help us find a way through. If we have done the work of first forgiving ourselves and realizing our own woundedness, it is possible to build a bridge across strong emotion and what may feel like a huge gulf of disconnection.

Instead of reacting to the emotion and causing further division and separation, there can be a natural leaning in as we realize instinctively that the person is hurting and, like us, needs kindness and support to find solid ground again. Often, we can almost feel the pain they are in because we ourselves have been there. Seeing ourselves in someone else’s pain is where compassion lies and from this place kindness will start flowing naturally.

Image by Alexa from Pixabay

The key to being kind in such moments is through an open heart—where deep feelings of peace, calm, stillness and joy arise. When we let our hearts open, instead of reacting emotionally we are instead able to connect against the tide of our usual behavior. With an open heart, we can see ourselves in the other person and genuinely feel our shared humanity. Heart-centered compassion enables us to share in the suffering of another person, to know where they are coming from, but from a place where we ourselves are connected to our hearts and so can offer a solid ground of support.

Real compassion from the heart is where we feel the pain of someone else but experience it as love and understanding.

Our TERROR OF REJECTION and its impact on kindness

Our terror of being rejected comes from our great fear that people might actually get to find out about those parts of us that we’re not even prepared to acknowledge ourselves; parts that have been hurt, and parts that have in turn hurt others. All of the unforgiven parts of us drive this fear. Shame and past hurt are buried in our unconscious causing us to guard and filter our conscious connections with others. True vulnerability is usually reserved only for those we can entrust with some of these deeper dimensions of us. This is not a great foundation upon which kindness can flow easily.

Image by John Hain from Pixabay

Whenever we are in a group of people, either social or the workplace, we guard, protect or defend ourselves to help us navigate the uncertainty of the space and what people might say or do. If we gave a voice to some of the emotions that surface toward others in these situations, it might sound something like this:

  • “That person sounds like an as%$#@& …they probably are.”
  • “Be careful of them…they look and sound like a bully…you know how this ends up.”
  • “Can you believe how they hog the airwaves?! You might as well be home gardening!”
  • “I like what they are saying…they could be a good ally.”

Of course, all of this is in our head…or mostly. Some of it is based on the experience we are having in the moment, but MOST of it is based on experience from the PAST. We are getting ready for what might happen as a protective strategy. And it’s happening so quickly that we often buy into what the fear in us is saying and forget to consciously shift to a kinder place within us, that says: “This time could be different. Why don’t we try some kindness instead of some judgement to begin with”. By acting as if the past will happen again, we block present kindness. We unwittingly cause or assist our fear of the past to materialize, reinforcing dynamics that arise from separation and fear in our interactions with others.

Image by Gerd Altmann from Pixabay

Those dynamics are driven by strong emotions and the temptation to follow them is strong. So how do we lift ourselves above our habits created from past experiences? How do we become the change we want to see and how do we love our enemies in real life? I’ll explore these questions and practical strategies in the last installment of the series. Read Part 1 and Part 2 if you missed them.