“Kindness connects with who you are, while niceness connects to how you want to be seen”- Davin Levithan
Are you one of the many individuals in this world who have learned how to be nice? I am not talking about being kind or polite, but developing from an early age the internalized behavior of being nice and often to a fault. That was me.
Plato defined kindness as being “more than deeds, it is an attitude, an expression, a look, a touch. It is anything that lifts another person.” When one uses the word “kind”, I have a sense of heart-felt freedom. The feeling of being unencumbered. It holds power with a sense of purpose, compassion, intention, and authenticity with no hidden agendas.
Being kind with others feels more personal versus the actions driven by our thoughts of wanting to be nice out of personal habit or for personal gain. So, what do I mean by that? I see that being nice has been my way of integrating in the world. I learned at a very early age that it allowed me to stay out of trouble, to get love and attention, approval, be rewarded and recognized for good behavior, performance, and I painted many of my actions with the broad brush “be nice”.
Being Too Nice
Being too nice and not using my voice to more consistently get my needs met is what prompted me on my journey to writing a book. Many authors as well have explored the word “nice” and the impact it has on our psyche. As I started to think about the word kind and nice both words began to take on a different meaning for me.
I am more conscious of my intentions and reframe my thoughts and words when giving or receiving with others. It occurred to me that kind was all about others. It is heart-felt and holds an intention of gratitude for another and acting as a conscious choice. This feels different versus doing something because you may have felt obligated or it may be a form of unconscious manipulation. Even as I write this I pause to say I don’t want to have people think I am not nice. Amazing, it is so insidious of how we want to be perceived in the world.
How often do we tell young children to “be nice”? Even at Christmas time for some children there is reference to a desired behavior of ‘Nice” versus being “Naughty”. Girls and boys are told they will not receive things if they are not nice. Not to mention we can go into some stores to find lingerie with little glittered print saying “Naughty or Nice”. We have been trained from the womb that nice is an attribute that many of us wanted to live into, be, or evolve to.
When my son was growing up, I remember telling him to be nice when we visited his grandparents or a friend’s house. Now I wonder what he understood that word to mean because I used it in so many different contexts. Although we think we clearly articulate our expectations such as remembering to say please and thank you, but the other behavior of not interrupting the adults, playing cooperatively with the other children required more explicit direction than just assuming he knew what I meant by saying to be nice.
Change in Plans
How many times have you changed your plans to be nice? No big deal, you comply with a request or a suggestion of another person. One evening my friend and I were driving to the movies. Having some extra time before the show, she suggested we stop at the local store so she could buy something before we got to the mall. As I started going past the mall’s entrance, she commented she thought we could stop and get tickets before we went to the store. In that moment I was in the passing lane and not near the turn. Yet, I found myself trying to accommodate making the turn and slowing traffic. I realized and commented in that moment, “you know, I am trying to be nice at the moment.” I was aware of the feeling inside me as to how quickly I went to that responsive behavior. Old patterns die hard. Reflecting back, I see we both had different expectations without clear communication. Very subtle, and I was trying to be a good guy and please another.
You may be thinking being nice isn’t a bad thing. I completely agree. Yet, when your ingrained way of being begins to take a toll on your physical, emotional or spiritual health, it’s time to take notice.
Reflection Question: In your life, think of a time when you did not speak your truth and were nice. What could you have done differently?