The difference between being nice & being kind

Often we use the terms nice and kind in the same sentence. We describe people as nice and kind interchangeably. I believe that there is an important difference between the two and that, while it is nice to be nice, it is essential to be kind. Being nice is when you are polite to people and treat people well. Being kind is when you care about people and show you care. Sometimes you can be kind to someone even though you aren’t nice to them and you can certainly be nice to someone but also be unkind. To me, the difference between these two comes in terms of depth.

The great book by Stephen Covey called The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People talked about the difference between a character based ethic and a personality ethic. The basic idea was that the personality ethic was more concerned with external changes in social skills such as smiling and hand shaking while the character ethic was a deeper change about living according to new principles. There is that old saying you have to be cruel to be kind. Maybe occasionally this is true. One thing that is certainly true is that sometimes not being nice is the kindest thing we can do for someone. For example, if you are dealing with someone who obsessively stalks you and convinces themselves that the feelings are reciprocated, it is the kind thing to avoid being nice. At that moment they need to get the message. It is what will benefit them the most. Being nice to them is not being kind. It is prolonging their self-delusion and angst.

I see many people in customer service who are trained to be nice but fail to act kindly. You cannot be taught to be kind. Being kind comes from caring enough for others that you want to do something for them. To me, the world needs more kindness than ever. We live in a world where we find ourselves battling others over our opinions. In many ways our differences with others are being highlighted. This can, in turn, affect how much we allow ourselves to care about others. While poisonous perspectives such as a racist world view comes from fear, it is the implicit biases we all suffer from that continues to do the most damage.

We have been trained to think about different types of people in particular ways. We generalise because our worlds contain simply too much information to consider it all. In doing so, we find ourselves making snap judgements about others and we become selective about who deserves our kindness. I believe one of the hardest yet most important things we must learn to do is start being kind to everyone that we can. Obviously there may be certain exceptions such as those who have harmed you or your loved ones. But I believe that most people, regardless of the differences they have with us in terms of race, creed, religion, culture, sexual preference or social status… need our kindness. We must start to care more about others and seek to help them in more ways. Not because we should do or because it is how we want to be seen. But because being kind is fundamentally the greatest gift we can give to the world. It is easy to be nice. It is easy to plaster on a smile and treat people respectfully but being kind is a different matter. Being kind requires that we look at others and consider them properly. It requires that we let ourselves see ourselves in them and connect with them. It requires that we help them in some way to have a better life.

I am not always as kind as I would like to be but I am committing to being more kind, more often. I won’t always be nice, but if I am kind then that will make far more of a difference.

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