Nice and kind

Dear President Trump,

So I started a very snarky letter to you this morning, but I’ve ditched it, at least for today. I’m tired of my own negativity and don’t want to be in that space on Valentine’s Day so instead I’m going to send you some thoughts on niceness and kindness.

After a sweet exchange with Laura on the topic of niceness yesterday, today I’ve been challenging myself to think through the distinction between “nice” and “kind.” They really feel quite different to me, but initially I couldn’t articulate why. I should have just looked them both up, since dictionary-wise, the distinction is actually pretty clear:

Nice = pleasant in manner; good-natured
Kind = having or showing a friendly, generous, and considerate nature

I must confess, though, that the online dictionary definition of “nice” includes “kind” as a third feature, but I really think that “pleasant manner” and “good-natured” capture my sense of “nice” and tagging in “kind” isn’t right.

For me, the aspect of generosity elevates kindness beyond the pleasantness and good-naturedness of niceness. Because of the generosity angle, my sense is that it’s much easier to be nice than it is to be kind. Along these lines, it also seems to me that niceness is somehow more transactional than kindness – that people are nice so they can navigate more smoothly in the world and so people will like them, while being kind seems like it’s somehow more intrinsically motivated or part of someone’s deeper character. I guess it looks from the outside like kind people are just that way, that they don’t have any uncharitable thoughts or resentments about their kind behaviors whereas I know that sometimes when I’m acting nice, my thoughts are seriously not in line with the outward behavior.

I don’t know if this assessment is correct or whether there is something to this nature/nurture deal, but I actually hope not because I decided today that I’m ready to move on from using my thrice daily phone chime reminding me to be nice to instead using it to remind me to be kind. I don’t remember when I first started the “be nice” reminders but I think it’s been more than a year now and while I still need help sometimes, I think I’m up for the challenge of shifting to kindness. So I really do hope that kindness is a way of being that can be cultivated. I think it is. It should be, right?

Obviously it’s a lighter lift for some people than it is for others and given my snark-tendencies and my default self-centeredness, it’s going to take some serious work. Fortunately pretty much all of the people I really admire are kind, so I’ve got some good role models. My plan is that I’m going to watch what they do and emulate them. That’s how I practiced being nicer and I think it worked pretty well. Hopefully if I “act as if” enough, I can get to the point some day where some of the time some acts of kindness will feel freely, generously given with no uncharitable thought blips.

What do you think – how about if you and I work on being kinder over the next rest of our lifetimes? What do you say? If you can do it, anyone can do it, so showing the world that Donald J. Trump can turn himself around to become a truly kind human being would make you the stuff of legends.

Ok. Sorry. Clearly I really do have a lot of work to do.

May we be safe to be tender and kind.
May we push our generosity envelopes.
May we see if we feel healthier and saner when we are kinder.
May we have the courage to be kindness and peace.

Tracy Simpson

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