“It’s nice to be important, but it’s more important to be nice.”
This was the banner that hung over the chalkboard of my second grade classroom. Twenty-some years later and I still remember this phrase; but I’d like to add on.
Nice is well and good, but kind is even better.
We are nice for all sorts of reasons—many of them self-serving. We’re nice to placate expectations, earn validation, and often to gloss over uncomfortable settings.
The act of being nice is an expression of the personality—of ego. Being nice can be faked.
Being kind, however, is an expression of character—of soul. Kindness cannot be fabricated; it’s as organic as the air we breathe.
Kindness comes from an impersonal motive. Kindness is an appendage of an impersonal love; a love the Greeks call agape. It’s a love for the greater good. Like agape, kindness is extended to all, excludes no one, does not need to be earned, and seeks not to be recognized, but perpetuated.
Kindness is the pure, sophisticated, discerning elevation of nice. Kind and nice may overlap, but the two can also be separated. Sometimes being nice is manufactured in the absence of kindness. When this happens, both the giver and recipient can feel it. This form of exchange feels depleting rather than nourishing.
Kindness is always nourishing, however, sometimes it takes courage. Being kind doesn’t always feel nice. Sometimes being kind means being honest—even when it’s hard because it’s not necessarily what the other person or group wants to hear.
Where niceties can be selective, ephemeral, and often artificial, kindness is all-encompassing, eternal, and genuine.
Being nice is something we can do. Being kind is what we are—or can become.
In today’s complex world, I think many of us feel the insidious pressure to please; to please our family, friends, clients, and communities. This desire to please certainly fuels niceness, but rather than just going through the motions of being nice, can we ask ourselves the question: yes, but is it kind?