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Mastering Grace: How to Avoid Being a Jerk

Mastering Grace: How to Avoid Being a Jerk

In our bustling modern life, where we juggle work, family, social interactions, and life in general, it’s easy to forget the importance of being nice.

We all aspire to it, but life gets in the way sometimes. Let’s be honest! It’s easy to inadvertently offend someone, step on toes, not take feelings into account, or well, sometimes just be an ass. Now, I write and speak about kindness, but I’m also human. I’m including myself in this assessment.

So here’s a gentle guide to help us steer clear of these pitfalls and embrace a more considerate, empathetic way of living. OK, here we go!


One of the best ways to not be an ass is to listen. Really listen. Especially when someone is speaking. I remember delivering a talk for schoolteachers years ago and two in the front row talked loudly all through my talk. You’d have thought they’d know what that felt like, teaching kids after all. But there you go.

But in a conversation, listening means being here, now. 100%. Without planning your response. Because if you’re planning your response you’re not really listening. You’re half-listening. Ok, we all worry that we’ll forget that great response we have. But isn’t giving your full attention more kind? So what, if you forget what you were planning to say? If you show empathy in listening, you’re more likely to say the “right” thing.

Think before you speak

Words have power. They really do. They can lift someone up or tear someone down. Few things have such power. Use yours wisely. And kindfully. Before you say something in a heated moment, pause for a second, take a breath, and ask yourself if what you’re about to say is necessary or kind. 

And if it’s true, or is it a distorted truth that you want to get across because you’re pissed off. These are the words that can tear someone down, and no matter how hard you try to make amends afterwards, they can’t be forgotten.

Lifting up or tearing down sometimes balances on a knife-edge. You wield the power to not be an ass.

Show some appreciation

It’s amazing how a quick “Thanks!,” a compliment, or a note of gratitude, can turn a frown upside down. Acknowledging a person’s efforts can put a lilt in their step and set in motion a knock-on effect of goodwill gestures, a sort or pay-it-forward-type of thing that people do without realising they’re doing it, just because someone blew some wind in their sails with a wee word of kindness.

Don’t be stingy with your praise. Spread it generously, like a good dollop of jam on top of your favourite scone.

Avoid Gossip and Negative Talk

We all love a good gossip. It’s human nature to share stories. However, you rarely know the full story. You’ve heard an angle on it. But I’ll guarantee that it’s not how the person who is the subject of the gossip with tell it. We’ve all been the subject of gossip. It hurts! It’s stressful. It can dent a fragile self-esteem.

Come on, people. We’re better than this. We all share this giant blue floating rock together. We’re family, and extended family, whether we like it or not. Let’s lift each other with our words. Try to understand each other. Empathise. Let’s tell positive, epic stories. 

If someone tries to spread gossip or negative talk, gently change the subject.

Practice Patience

Now, in a world that seems to be spinning faster and faster and everything seems to have a sense of urgency attached to it, practicing patience is like holding your ground when a gale is blowing against you.

But whether you’re stuck in traffic, desperate to get to the end to the end of the queue in the supermarket, can’t find a parking space, or dealing with a colleague who seems to keep on messing up, practicing patience helps you stay calm, avoid offence, and side-step unnecessary conflicts.

Set patience as a personal goal. Then it’s not something you’re having to do to cope with a set of circumstances thrust upon you, but because you’re choosing to do as it’s a personal challenge.

Be honest, but gentle

Honesty is important, but it doesn’t have to be brutal. It doesn’t have to be delivered with the force of a sledgehammer and the precision of a surgeon’s scalpel. Swap, “You’re always late,” for “I’ve noticed you’ve been arriving late recently, is everything OK?” Understand that everyone’s got a story. Concern over criticism will win in the long term.

Apologise When Necessary

We all make mistakes. We’re human. Own it, make it right, and keep dancing. A sincere apology can mend relationships and show that you are taking responsibility for your actions.

An apology is not a sign of weakness. It’s a sign of strength, built upon integrity.

Embrace Empathy

Empathy is the cornerstone of not being an ass. It’s your “I-feel-with-you” meter, the stock in friendship soup, the pull before the hug. The phrase, “To walk a mile in someone’s shoes” isn’t just something we say. It’s something to be practiced. 

Try to see things from others’ perspectives and reach to understand their feelings. Empathy is rewarded a hundred-fold in the grander scheme of things. Empathy makes it much easier to respond to situations with understanding and kindness, and avoid a whole tangled plate-of-spaghetti-type mess.

In conclusion

In conclusion, the journey of not being an ass is a continuous process of self-awareness and growth. Empathy is our guide. But don’t beat yourself up if you don’t manage so well. We’re only human and we’re all trying our best given the contexts of our lives and the beliefs and past experiences available to us. But try anyway. 

Try to be kind. Or at least try not to be an ass.

Kind note: This piece is intended to offer a light-hearted, tongue-in-cheek guide to being kind. In case that wasn’t obvious. 

Credit - David R. Hamilton PhD

This is an adaptation of a section of my new book, ‘The Joy of Actually Giving a F*ck’ (Hay House, 9 July 2024). Pre-order now and get a 4-part “Kindfulness” course with 5-free kindfulness meditation practices.

David R. Hamilton PhD
After completing his PhD, David worked for 4 years in the pharmaceutical industry developing drugs for cardiovascular disease and cancer. During this time he also served as an athletics coach and manager of one of the UK’s largest athletics clubs, leading them to three successive UK finals. Upon leaving the pharmaceutical industry, David co-founded the international relief charity Spirit Aid Foundation and served as a director for 2 years.

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