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The Difference Between “Nice” and “Kind”

The words “nice” and “kind” are oftentimes used interchangeably. One can see how this makes sense: both connote goodness. But, to me, there is a distinct difference between the two.

To me, niceness denotes politeness and pleasantness. To be nice is to be agreeable, to treat others with respect, and to say “please” and “thank you.” These are all very good things, and hence, this behaviour is generally recognized as preferable; most parents and teachers aim to raise children who are nice. But, perhaps because niceness is so widely prioritized, especially for girls and women, it can become a show of habit rather than sincerity. Acts of niceness are synonymous with acts of politeness, not necessarily of genuine goodwill. While asking somebody about their day is a nice gesture, it is meaningless if you’re not listening to the response. Where niceness can be faked, kindness cannot.

That is not to condemn niceness or to say that it is impossible to be nice and kind, just to suggest that kindness goes a step farther. In my opinion, an act of genuine kindness is devoid of any intentions other than helping another person. Displays of ‘tough love’ are acts of kindness; in certain cases, tough love may jeopardize the relationship in question – at the very least it challenges the relationship by pushing its boundaries – but it is enforced in hopes of benefiting its recipient, and the benefactor has nothing to gain. This is in contrast to acts of niceness, which may be committed in attempts to sugarcoat reality and avoid hurting the recipient’s feelings. However, it is possible to accomplish tough love nicely, that is to say, as gently as possible without taking away from the intention of helping. This is one way that it is possible to be nice and kind. Similarly, somebody may wish you a good day, as is polite to do, but if one is saying it as a result of sincerely hoping that for you, rather than just out of habit, then that is also a show of kindness. There is a big difference between treating others well just because it is the proper way to act and understanding why you should be treating others with respect.

Niceness lies in behaviour; kindness lies in intention. Both can overlap and are important, but in different ways. Not everybody needs others to be nice to them all the time, but everybody needs kindness. Without niceness, there would be a lot more hurt feelings in children and probably consequently damaged adults, but without kindness, there would be no hope.

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