The other day I stopped by one of my favourite shops, The Regional Assembly of Text, (paper! paper! paper!) to buy a birthday card for a friend. After buying five birthday cards (because you can never have too many), I passed the table of tempting notebooks in the centre of the store. There are always tempting notebooks in The Regional Assembly. Sometimes I can resist them, but this time my eye was caught by one that was titled A Billion Random Acts of Kindness That Will Even Cheer Up a Jerk. Well. How do you resist a title like that? You don’t. Or at least I don’t. I bought it. And I immediately knew the topic of my next blog post.
Kindness. It’s a quality that feels like it’s in short supply these days – at least if you pay too much attention to the news or spend too much time on social media. Everyone seems to be yelling at everyone else or calling each other out in public. Politicians are actively working to divide us instead of bringing us together, and ginning up their “base” by behaving in stupefyingly cruel ways. Governments promulgate laws that seem expressly designed to make people’s lives harder (billionaires exempted). The notion of a “kindler, gentler” society feels very far away.
Yet that’s not the whole story. Every day millions of people engage in quiet acts of kindness. A high school class organizes a beach clean-up. A multifaith group shows up every week to make lunch for people in need. Neighbours set up a GoFundMe campaign to help a family who lost their home in a fire. And at an even smaller scale, there are the everyday kindnesses that go almost unnoticed, except to the recipients of those acts. Something as simple as letting someone in ahead of you in traffic, cooking a meal for a sick friend, or leaving an appreciative note for a waiter along with their tip. Acts that get no publicity at all, but that can make a huge difference to someone’s day (or life).
It should be noted that being kind is not necessarily synonymous with being “nice.” Niceness is about acting to please others, usually stemming from our wish to be liked. While it can certainly be genuine, it can also be a social mask that covers up very un-nice feelings in order to be deemed acceptable. And the imperative to be nice can suppress people’s permission to address difficult issues, which not only doesn’t help anyone but is actively damaging.
Kindness, on the other hand, isn’t always nice. Nice is sitting politely with a smile on our face. Kind is speaking up about challenging issues at the risk of disturbing others. Nice is saying, “Here, let me solve this for you.” Kind is saying, “Let me help you solve it.” Nice is reflexive. Kind is responsive, and takes insight, intentionality and a willingness to extend ourselves for someone else’s benefit. Nice hopes people will be nice back. Kind doesn’t expect reward.
Also, let’s be honest: kind isn’t always easy. A website I came across the other day defines kindness as “the sincere and voluntary use of one’s time, talent, and resources to better the lives of others, one’s own life, and the world through genuine acts of love, compassion, generosity, and service.” That’s a tall order! I know that I’m still a work in progress on the kindness front and probably always will be. We probably all are. Right now I’m leaning toward a “cultivating my garden” approach: plant the seeds, water them, appreciate the shoots that appear, prune as needed, share the crop as generously as I can, and plant again when I fail.
How about you?
Nice is reflexive. Kind is responsive. I LOVE that. Thank you for the time you make to write this, Avril. It brightens my day!
This has become a new goal for me… to understand what true kindness is and act on it in the moment. True responsive actions and words. Speaking up when someone says something divisive. Interrupting unkind acts. Being proactive. Skip the automatic reflecting … do it later. Wow. Thank you Avril for your KIND words.
As someone who gets ‘you are so nice’ a lot, I appreciate how you’ve outlined the difference between nice and kindness… when I’m in my own head I’m ‘nice’ but when my intention and action is outside, I’m ’kind’ – thank you Avril !
So glad this post resonated with you, Janet!