Minneapolis hosted the Super Bowl last week and some brilliant minds branded our city with #BoldNorth. It was great. Our long list of frigid outdoor festivities was basically a dare to just try to be as bold as us. But you can betcha the folks in town for the big game experienced a lot more Minnesota Nice than Minnesota Bold. Which is probably good.
Nice is a trait guests enjoy. When your hosts can pat you on the back and say, “Have a nice day!” (even though your hosts were really, really, really, REALLY hoping their team would be in the big game), that’s the utmost in nice. Am I right?
Still, is nice always enough? Is nice where it ends? Can we muster up a little bit more for each other once in a while? Should we? These are things I’ve been thinking about lately. Niceness. Kindness. And the difference between them.
Growing up, I knew the word “nice” had something to do with being friendly but, honestly, it gained most of its meaning in the context of what a person should not be doing:
Don’t get me wrong. I’d rather speak to a nice cashier than an un-nice one. But I still remember how different it felt when the word “kind” started showing up in sentences where I expected “nice” to be.
Like: “What would be the kind thing to do right now?” Or: “Can you think of a way to be honest while also being kind?” Or: “Do you think you could be kind to that person who hurt you?”
I don’t remember noticing this verbiage shift until I was an adult (in therapy). But once it clicked, one thing became immediately clear: Kindness requires more from me than niceness.
Kindness isn’t just about restraining myself from hurting someone. Kindness demands a greater level of compassion and care. And empathy. And intention. Kindness means treating someone well vs. just not treating them badly.
It’s nice to not kick someone who’s down. It’s kind to offer them a helping a hand.
It’s nice to be likable. It’s kind to be genuinely interested in another person’s wellbeing.
As it turns out, one of the first people I was encouraged to be kind to was the hardest one of all: myself. This was no accident, because another thing I’ve learned about kindness is that the less I offer to myself, the less I’m able to give to others. And the more I freely lavish kindness on my own imperfect self, the more kindness I have left over for the rest of the world.
I soon learned another thing about kindness though. Not only does kindness require greater effort, but it sometimes doesn’t look very “nice” at all.
Let’s take that “Don’t hurt her feelings.” advice, for example. At one point in my life, that was my golden rule: Never make anyone feel uncomfortable or regretful or awkward or sad… Until I found myself drowning in a swamp of codependency that ended up hurting others as much as myself.
When disagreeing with someone didn’t seem like the “nice” thing to do, I would bottle things up until, inevitably, I’d blow up—spewing hurtful words and unfair judgments. When it didn’t seem “nice” to interrupt a loved one’s busy day with my need for connection, I wouldn’t voice that need—until I’d become a needy, resentful, passive-aggressive bully.
Worst of all, when it didn’t seem “nice” to drag my messy, complicated, sometimes-disagreeable self into the presence of someone who seemed more “together” than me, I’d work really hard to keep those parts of myself hidden. As a result, I robbed some special people of the chance to have a real connection with the real me—while also sending myself the message that the real me isn’t worth knowing. I may have come across as “nice” in the moment, but that wasn’t kind to anyone, by any definition.
I’m speaking of these things in the past tense but, of course, I’m a work in progress, as we all are. Being kind isn’t always easy. It’s not always our default setting. We have to overcome passivity or laziness. We have to contend with the voices in our heads that argue for nice, sterile relationships vs. kind-but-complex ones. The struggle is real, but it’s worth it. Because, in my experience, we all need kindness a whole lot more than niceness.
I know I do.
P.S. Ellen Koneck nailed that whole Minnesota Nice thing in this refreshing piece. If you haven’t enjoyed her delightful take on it, I highly recommend.
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Julie Rybarczyk is a freelance writer, fair-weather blogger, and empty-nester mama who’s living alone and liking it . She’s perpetually the chilliest person in Minneapolis—so most of the year you’ll find her under layers of wool, behind steaming cups of tea. Or on the socials at @shortsandlongs.
BY Julie Rybarczyk - February 10, 2018
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Thank you for being here. For being open to enjoying life’s simple pleasures and looking inward to understand yourself, your neighbors, and your fellow humans! I’m looking forward to chatting with you.
I always viewed “nice” as a description and “kind” as an action. Thank you for this piece.
Mailinh – yes! You just summed up everything I was trying to say. Thanks for this concise insight. Love it.
A question I often ask myself is, “what does love look like in this situation?” Or, “what would love do?”..
Great post. I enjoyed the nice vs kind description, and I really enjoyed hearing a woman touch briefly on football. It’s the first blog post I’ve seen that works football into a mostly feminine blog.
Thanks, Clarissa! If I had more intelligent things to say about football, I would for sure, lol. I’m glad you enjoyed – thanks for reading and commenting!
I never thought of the difference between niceness and kindness – they’ve always sort of merged into the same thing for me. Thank you for this. It’s nice to see the words distinguished and made clear. Love the examples too. 🙂
Charmaine Ng | Architecture & Lifestyle Blog
Charmaine, I’m with you – I used to think of the words as interchangeable, but it’s really impacted me to start seeing the difference. Thanks for the note! xo
You make such a great argument about intention – that nice is a restraint of our bad behavior, while kindness comes from a much deeper place. It’s a good thing to remember! Also women are conditioned to be nice in all situations, where it’s an obligation to those around us, rather than for ourselves. Great article!
Eva | http://www.shessobright.com
Eva – I sooooo agree about us women being conditioned to be “nice”. It’s a belief I’ve had to work hard to undo in my own life… Thank you for reading! xo
A question I often ask myself is, “what does love look like in this situation?” Or, “what would love do?”
Love your thoughts!!
Julie: LOVE THAT. Those questions are perfect. I’m nabbing those. Thank you. xxoo
“Being kind isn’t always easy. It’s not always our default setting”. This right here sums it all up.
Thank you, Onyinyechi. Man, does it take effort sometimes, right? xo
This is so spot-on. I totally resonate with the way we convince ourselves that it’s nice to diminish unpleasant or broken parts of ourselves in the presence of others. It’s toxic, both for our wellbeing and our relationships! (And I *do* think it’s more common in the Midwest… though I saw it in NYC, too!) xox
Ellen – Here’s to ongoing healing from toxic niceness!
[…] Rybarczyk, in her article “Why I Choose Kindness Over Niceness,” explains, “Kindness isn’t just about restraining myself from hurting someone. […]
Beautifully written piece on a topic that is so much on my mind these days. Decades of living life in “be nice” / “good girl” mode can certainly make for a “nice” life…of sorts. But moving further outside one’s comfort zone and trying to see and act with more “kindness” is really so much enjoyable and fulfilling. Thank you. (Jan 2020)
thank you for the reminder. gives me courage to continue in this. i lean towards the not-caring-what-people-think and need to be reminded to be kind in my not caring ;).
This post really resonated with me. Growing up in Minnesota, I sometimes felt paralyzed by the “niceness”. It often leads to people pleasing instead of the complexities of deep and meaningful relationships. Yes to way more kindness!
What a beautiful way to differentiate between being nice and being kind. I had never put it in this context before, and would like to think I lean more towards the kind side (I nicely tell someone how I feel whether it’s good or bad feedback)… Well written 🙂
It has been helpful for me to remember that someone who can be nice, may well be neither “good”, kind, nor trustworthy,
Oh very cool post and I will like to share this because I think its very useful for me. Gustavo Woltmann
I’ve had this thought that’s been on my mind. Niceness is nice until it’s not.
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