Did you know that there is a difference between nice and kind? I know, it may be difficult to believe, given that our society (and society in general) uses those terms interchangeably, but trust me when I say that there is not only a difference, but there is a large one. Discovering that has not only been a tremendous source of encouragement to me, but it also has served to free me from burdens that, in some cases, I didn’t even know I was carrying. I pray that to whatever degree, this post may do the same for whomever reads it.
I have, as of late, been blessed with the opportunity to be a listening ear/mentor/source of input for two friends of mine who are recently married. They have had their share of headaches right out of the gate (as all married couples do, I am sure) and I am thankful and honored that they value my input to whatever degree, and have allowed me to step into their lives as they begin their journey together.
During one of our conversations I relayed a point to them that my sister, a counselor in Pennsylvania, made to me; namely that there is a difference between being “nice” and being “kind.” She said it this way: “Nice is a social construct. Kindness is not.” It was after that conversation that I began to research and read on the subject, and came across an article done by one Marcia Sirota, a psychiatrist who is a columnist for the Huffington Post. If you like, you can read her article (found here) but I will touch on the pertinent points in the blog. The main differences, it is pointed out, come in the motivation and mental state of the two actions. The comparison goes like this:
Sound familiar? God knows it did to ME. I can remember many years of my life in which I spent time being “nice” to people and could tick off almost every one of those (except being careful not to offend anyone – offending people I did with glee and relish, let me tell you!) and yet never would have admitted to myself, let alone to anyone else, that I had anything but the most altruistic motives in mind. It wasn’t until many years later that I realized that although I may indeed have been a “nice” person, I surely wasn’t a “kind” person, many times.
It also makes the saying “Nice guys finish last” ring quite true, unfortunately. With that kind of outlook, you will definitely finish last, eventually.
Now let’s look at kind people.
Wow! What a contrast, eh? When you look at the two, it really begins to show that they are nothing alike – and even more obvious is why one of them, being “nice,” would be more highly praised and favored over being “kind,” particularly in our society. I mean, really – how DARE anyone set limits or boundaries? Decide who “deserves” help and who doesn’t? (This one is especially onerous in Christian circles, where so many believe that there’s a verse that says “And Jesus said ‘Thou shalt give to anyone who sticks a hand out, because I told you to.” Never mind that there’s nothing like that in Scripture – but I digress) Take responsibility for your OWN self-care? That’s practically blasphemy today. Not care whether others like or approve of your caring for others and your compassion? I mean, this is HERESY! You MUST have the approval of others or you are NOTHING!
Yeah. Moving on.
Ok, so why post this? What’s the point? The point is this – being nice is a trap. It’s a burden, and it’s ultimately self-defeating because until you are truly happy with yourself, you never will do enough, give enough or be approved of enough by others to make you happy. It leads to anger, frustration, and in my case, a lot of bad choices and broken friendships when I finally decided I’d “had enough” and started to do my own thing. As a friend of mine so eloquently put it, “Oh, ‘Jeremy the doormat’ isn’t here any more?” No, he wasn’t – and when he wasn’t, he wasn’t with a VENGEANCE. I was one VERY angry man, and it showed. It took a lot of hurt and eventually counseling to help me deal with it, and I’m grateful the opportunity was there to do so. I wish I could say that I have arrived, and that I am totally “kind” now, and never deal with any of the things under the “nice” category, but I’d be lying. I’m still VERY human, and that’s not the point, anyway. The point is this – what drives you, ultimately? At the end of the day, although you’d LIKE the approval of others for what you do, can you live without it, knowing you’ve still done what was good and right? Can you care for others even if no one sings your praises or pats you on the back? Can you understand that not everyone is going to like you, and what’s even more important, that when that happens, it does not always indicate a failure on YOUR part? Can you care for others and express it, unafraid, even if some may snicker or even object, so long as your expression is appropriately done? – and what’s more, realize that the problem isn’t yours; it’s theirs?
If you can, you may be more kind than nice. If you can’t, then it will be my prayer that by reading this, you may be able to begin to start your own search, your own journey toward shrugging off the burden of being “nice” and entering into the realm of joy that comes from being truly kind.
Believe me when I tell you – IT CAN BE DONE.
God bless today, my friends.