I have a friend who is always saying, “People are so nice!” and being genuinely surprised and grateful every time someone does some small thing. But to me, while nice is good, kindness is better. When someone commits an act of kindness, no matter how small, it has a much more substantial result.
Here’s the thing, people are nice, but they’re also mean, indifferent, self-centered, and have a ton of other qualities.” Praising someone for being nice, is like giving someone a reward for participating. Treating others well and going that extra mile should be something that people just do without thinking about how it could benefit them.
Sometimes people are nice just because they want to be, but other times, they’re being nice for selfish reasons. When someone is overly nice, it usually comes from a place of feeling inadequate. They need to get that validation that they’re okay, and to feel better about themselves.
However, kindness is much more lasting and means more to those who receive it. Kindness requires empathy, intention, compassion, care, selflessness, and generally last longer than niceness. Kindness doesn’t always end with one act of kindness but has a reverberating effect—setting off a whole chain of compassionate and thoughtful acts.
I’m not advocating meanness nor am I saying that being nice is a bad thing—it’s not. It’s great when your neighbors are nice, your UPS person is friendly, and the people you encounter throughout your day are polite.
If anything, we need more niceness in the world. I’m just saying that if we can, let’s go deeper with our niceness, and turn it into kindness.
When you act in a kind way, you don’t expect anything in return; you’re just the type of person who treats people (and animals,) with compassion and care. You go that extra step just because you want to or because you think it’s the right thing to do, not because you hope it will make you look good.
You can pretend to be nice, but you can’t fake real kindness.
Here’s something you may not agree with, but it’s been said that niceness is based on fear and kindness is based on love.
“A person who feels ‘weaker’ than another has an evolutionary imperative to be ‘nice,’ in order to gain the favor of the stronger person,” Kevin Ellerton of MeditationMag.com writes. “In today’s organized society, most people are nice to just about everyone they meet.” Ellerton goes on to say, “the ‘nice guy’ tends to be even nicer than usual when a person of particular power is around. Aside from the basic fear of becoming a target of this person’s wrath, there is another motivation for ‘being extra nice’ to him. If you have a powerful friend, you gain power by association.” You stay on the powerful person’s good side by being nice to them.
Niceness is obvious, and kindness may not be immediately apparent, so you take the chance of being kind without getting any praise for it.
Kindness is a soul-quality, and it’s difficult to be kind if at some level you’re not a good person. However, you can be nice on a purely surface level especially if you’re being nice as a way to get something you want, such as approval from others, to pacify someone who is upset and to avoid confrontation.
If you’re still having trouble differentiating between niceness and kindness, here are a couple of examples:
It’s nice to not kick someone who is down. It’s kind to not only offer them a helping hand but take the extra steps to help them change their situation. They may not see what you’re doing as a kindness but that doesn’t stop you from doing it.
It’s nice to send a card or flowers when someone is in the hospital, but it’s kind to visit them and help them with their recovery. Again, they may not appreciate you taking the time to walk with them down the hall, but you know, in the long run, it’s required for them to get better.
It’s nice to tell your friend that they’re going to ace that audition, but it’s kind to tell them that they could benefit from taking some singing lessons first.
Actress Kristen Bell wrote about kindness versus niceness in an essay for Cosmopolitan. “I realized that being nice isn’t synonymous with being kind. Being kind is more than a smile on the street or donating to charitable causes. It’s even more than making people feel good. Not to dismiss those acts. They’re all wonderful and admirable and imperative in making the world go round.” Bell goes on to explain why kindness is something that we should strive for. “But kindness is different. Kindness is the high dive. It requires courage and vulnerability to choose to be honest with people when they may not want to hear it.”
Kindness may take a little more effort, and it can be scary, but the results are worth it for their ability to be life-changing for everyone involved.
I hope in the future my friend will be saying, “People are so kind!” Because kindness is something that we all need in abundance.