In my quest to be the most loving kind of person I can be (even in the most difficult of situations), I’ve been thinking a lot lately about the difference between being nice and being kind. “What’s the difference?” you may ask. Good question. The answer, I think, lies in the motivation behind the actions that are often characterized by those two words.
In my opinion, the words “nice” and “kind” are erroneously used interchangeably all the time. In fact, I think it is a far greater thing to be kind than it is to be nice. Confused yet? Let’s consider an example.
This morning, I was walking into a store for coffee. The man in front of me waited for just a moment to hold the door. Most would say he is nice. And maybe he is. But I wonder if he is also kind. In other words, did he hold the door because it would have seemed rude to not hold it? Was he afraid of being judged? Did it feel awkward? Or, did he wait and hold the door because of a genuine respect for another human being? Did he have a true desire to demonstrate graciousness and consideration? In the most basic of terms, is he kind beyond the nice gesture?
Maybe in this situation the distinction doesn’t really matter all that much. But if we step back to consider our actions in this way, what we might find is that many of the “nice” things we do every day are really just rooted in our effort to appear a certain way, to fold into a convention, or to avoid criticism. And if that’s the case, isn’t it also possible that our efforts to be nice are doing nothing to make us better people? Certainly, a simple thing like holding a door for a stranger is a menial example. But think about all of the things we’ve done or said simply because we were being nice. In this way, nice is a passive thing. It becomes something we are often guilted into out of fear, insecurity, or a desire to maintain peace. For those reasons, the nice person may indeed be a fake.
Kindness is, on the other hand, a more proactive approach to the world. It is a choice that we must consciously make. Most importantly, kindness is not veiled in pretense or expectations. It does not judge and is not characterized by lies or fear. Instead, I believe that kindness is rooted in a deep desire to want to help, to be there for someone, to demonstrate love for ourselves and for others. There is no pressure in kindness. The kind actions are those motivated by a true desire to make the world a better place, even if just for one person at one moment in time.
All of this is not to say that people shouldn’t be nice. Perhaps it is that basic courtesy that gives the world order. It is probably what creates a sense of politeness in our every day. But kindness, I believe, goes deeper than this superficial response to the world. It motivates us to look at every situation from a variety of perspectives; it generates empathy. It connects us to others. While it may be easier to just be nice, I believe we have to practice being kind. And to demonstrate kindness when we are tired, or sad, or angry, or feeling slighted in some way is an even loftier goal that requires a good amount of courage.
Earlier this year, I wrote a piece about new year’s resolutions and I proposed the formation of the “Be List.” My resolution this year is to be less nice and more kind. That means being kinder to myself and then kinder to others. I honestly don’t care if people think I’m nice. But kind? Yeah. Kind matters.