Many people use the words nice and kind interchangeably. Knowing the difference is fundamental to fostering personal authenticity and honest, meaningful interactions with others.
Being nice or being kind are significantly different in INTENTION.
Nice emanates from the INTENTION of pleasing, being agreeable, and most importantly, being liked, as in the idiom to “make nice”. It is used too often and has become a cliché, lacking much substance. There is nothing intrinsically wrong with wanting to please someone or be agreeable. However, when you do it from a place of being liked, it erodes your capacity to be powerfully present and grounded in your truth. Kind, on the other hand, emanates from the INTENTION of honesty and integrity, rather than on being liked.
Power and Survival
My own path began with being raised, like most women and many men, to be nice from a place of being accepted and liked, of affirming my value externally. This meant being amiable in the face of micro-aggressions and keeping my mouth shut as in: “If you can’t say something nice, don’t say anything at all”. Interestingly enough, this first appeared in Bambi, when Thumper, who started out being appropriately curious and honest, was chastised with this phrase into being nice.
Unlike Thumper, I didn’t do well with this lesson. My need to speak my truth won out despite a strong desire to be liked. This resulted in ongoing problems with authority figures. I was dunked in my backyard pool by my mom, made to step out in the hallway by a teacher, and suspended, demoted, and fired in different social service jobs. I did not intend to challenge authority. I was driven by values of justice and well being for myself, staff I supervised, and our resilient clients. I slowly understood over the years that some of how people reacted to my truth-telling was tied to my power status. Privilege, by virtue of gender, race, age and work status, to name a few, determines who has to ‘play nice’ and who gets to speak their mind. You can see why being kind gets lost in all this jockeying for power and survival.
Pain and Pride
After completing my MFA and sending my memoir to an editorial consultant, I wanted her to tell me how much she loved my book and to suggest agents. While she applauded my writing, she honed in on how I could tell my story with a more intriguing structure and build my writing platform while doing this. At the time I felt discouraged because I had invested years in my book and did not want to, basically, write another book. Nevertheless, I took her words to heart and have since built a strong platform as well as re-written my memoir many times over to do justice to the story. All this pain and now pride in my memoir and writing life overall germinated when Marcela Landres chose to be kind – she spoke the truth in a considerate yet forthright manner.
Kindness Practice Tips
To develop and sustain a regular kindness practice requires some clear intentions and behaviors.
First, be kind to yourself. Be honest when you reflect on your thoughts and actions each day. Acknowledge when you have made a misstep and take whatever action is required to be back in harmony with yourself and others. As the poet Rumi says, “Be kind to yourself, dear – to your innocent follies. Forget any sound or touch you knew that did not help you dance. You will come to see that all evolves us.”
Second, focus your intention on being considerate, compassionate and boundaried. A buddhist teacher gave me 3 questions to ask when I found myself in the netherworld of deciding what to do when I disagreed with someone: Is it true? Is it beneficial? Is it the right time and place? I use these questions all the time. When I decide the answer to all 3 is yes, then I speak, kindly, from my heart. Sometime it takes me 3 seconds to answer the questions, sometimes 3 days.
Finally, remember the cost of being nice from a place of external acceptance is high. Focusing primarily on pleasing others and being liked can be emotionally numbing. It takes the edge off of the necessary pain of disagreement that is essential in truly authentic relationships. It also dulls our brilliance and power and makes us less willing to be courageous. As Nelson Mandela said: “The greatest glory in living lies not in never falling, but in rising every time we fall.”
He was a kind man who changed the world. If you aspire to your own special greatness, contact me for a 20 minute complimentary coaching session at 510-593-4685.