Don’t mistake my kindness for weakness.
I am kind to everyone, but when someone is unkind to me,
weak is not what you are going to remember about me.
– Al Capone
In Part 1 of this Guide, we explored 7 steps for being a decent human being. I then ended our discussion with a quote by John Cheese: “Sometimes being a nice person is all about knowing when to be an asshole.” The quotes from Al Capone and John Cheese, of course, requires us to take a closer look at the concepts of being “nice” and being “kind.” And making a decision which of them is the most important if you – as an occasional asshole – are going to be a decent human being.
When you look up “nice” you get the following from dictionary.com, you get:
adjective, nic·er, nic·est.
1. pleasing; agreeable; delightful
2. amiably pleasant; kind
adjective, kind·er, kind·est.
1. of a good or benevolent nature or disposition, as a person: a kind and loving person.
2. having, showing, or proceeding from benevolence: kind words.
3. indulgent, considerate, or helpful; humane
4. mild; gentle
5. British Dialect . loving; affectionate.
So let me see if I have this right. If you are “kind,” you are also “nice.” But being “nice” doesn’t guarantee you’re “kind.” Is it any wonder I was confused when I first started my exploration of any distinction there might be. Let me let you in on a little secret discovery right now, but the way. All those signs that read, “Nice matters,” should really read “Kindness matters.”
Let me explain . . .
When you really look at what being “nice” entails you find that it is, in the end, being polite. Being “nice” ultimately means doing what is generally accepted as normal or well-mannered behavior. You’ll notice that I haven’t said one word about actually giving a damn. You can be “nice” without caring.
Does this concept of “nice” really surprise you? Do you actually believe that people who are “nice” to you really all care about you, what you are doing, your aim in life, or how you turn out? Seriously? Some of the nicest people I know will smile at you, open doors for you, offer you food if you’re in their home, and even shake your hand. When you leave their sight, however, they don’t give a rat’s ass about what just transpired. All that matters is that they give you the appearance of good form. People who are “nice” generally know the Rules of Etiquette and it’s all about how they feel and ensuring themselves that they don’t offend you.
Being “kind,” on the other hand, entails understanding another person and wanting to do something to help them or be of aid. Being “kind” comes from the desire to support and improve people. And generally those who are “kind” have little concern for whether their actions or thoughts or words are well received if they are designed to encourage and promote a greater goal. Think of being “kind” as embracing the “Tough Love” concept while someone who is more concerned with being “nice” would never “be cruel in order to be kind.”
At the risk of not being “nice,” let me put it this way: the “nice” people – the pleasers of the world – would cringe at the thought of being an asshole. And, as a result, they are doomed to being unhappy because they can never achieve their goal of being “nice” to everyone. “Kind” people, on the other hand, are usually happy in their own world and they understand and set their own boundaries. That permits “kind” people to share with others out of self-assurance and friendship as opposed to doing things out of guilt or because social norms dictate one act or another.
The challenge, of course, is that most of us have never really thought there is any difference between being “nice” and “kind.” Don’t believe me? Go look up books on “Nice” and “Kindness” on Amazon and see if you can truly make out any distinction in most of the content you find. There’s even one book that combines the two words in the title and subtitle. At least the author acknowledges that “small kindnesses” lead to being “nice” (and not the other way around).
So, let me be open with all of you at the risk of offending some of you (and I’m okay with that): If you want to change your life, start being good-hearted and care less about being politically correct or polite. This isn’t anything new and it shouldn’t be a bombshell for you. I’m just reminding you of something you’ve known in your gut all along. And stop listening to most of the people who’ve professed to know anything at all about being “nice” – they’ve probably just sold you a bill of goods in order to look good and appear “nice.”
Next week, I’m going to share with you my Truths About Kindness. Until then, you might want to meditate on this powerful quote from the Dalai Lama: “This is my simple religion. There is no need for temples; no need for complicated philosophy. Our own brain, our own heart is our temple; the philosophy is kindness.”
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