“Being nice” is about caring about what other people think. “Being kind” is about you caring–and choosing–to be a better person.
From the moment we tried to grab a toy from another kid, (or tried to get back the toy they took from us) we’re told to “be nice”.
When that boy in on the bus said horrible, horrible things to us, we were told “he didn’t really mean it.” We’re not allowed to be angry. We’re told to “be nice”.
Even Disney rubbed it in, when Thumper says, “If you can’t say somethin’ nice, don’t say nothin’ at all.” (Bambi)
“Nice” is a facade, a mask we’re supposed to wear in order to be seen as a ‘good’ person–especially women. At best, we may do it out of fear, to protect ourselves, or to avoid confrontation.
At worst, we do it so we don’t have to go deeper. It lets us off the hook for meaningful engagement. So being ‘nice’ can also be a social cop-out
Being ‘nice’ simply in order to get something you want is patronizing and shallow. When I hear about a guy complaining because a woman they just met, doesn’t want to sleep with him, even though he’s a “nice guy”, I want to say, “You keep using that word. I don’t think it means what you think it means.” (Courtesy of Inigo Montoya in The Princess Bride.)
To this day, even when someone is behaving badly, even to me, to my horror, I rarely ever confront them (except my poor husband). Instead, I back off or walk away. To call someone on their behavior is “not nice.” Heaven forbid I hurt someone’s feelings after they’ve just shredded mine.
Being nice hasn’t served me.
On the other hand, what about kindness? Let’s strive for that instead.
Being kind means being a real person, and striving to see others as real people, too.
Choosing to be kind is to create a state of compassion, to have empathy with another person or living thing.
It can be as simple as seeing–really seeing–another person, even if you cross paths for a few seconds. A smile. A step aside to let them go by. Holding a door. Even a quarter in the cup.
It can be as powerful as being a witness, recognizing what someone else is going through, and celebrating if-and-when they reach the other side. Being present, during a rough patch in their life, or at the end of life.
I’ve spent a lifetime being nice.
Now I want to focus on being kind.