Kind versus nice

As a child, I remember being told, “Be nice.”, or “Y’all play nice.”  Since we’re being honest, there have been many times those phrases have been hurled my way as an adult too.  “Why?”, you might ask.  That’s simple.  I’m not the nicest person you’ll ever meet, nor do strive to be.  I get “sweet” a lot.  Occasionally, someone will find out I’m a big softy and I’ll have to bribe them to stay quiet, but “nice” isn’t tossed my way often.  That’s alright though. I’d much rather put effort into being kind rather than just being nice. 

Yes, there is a difference, and that difference is huge.

What is nice?

The Oxford dictionary defines nice as “pleasant, agreeable, satisfactory”.  When you put it that way, nice sounds like unflavored oatmeal or grits cooked with no salt, butter, or sugar.  Bleh! 

To me, nice is a social tool a person uses when they want to put on a mask and pretend to be something they aren’t.  I often describe “nice” people as being hypocritical.  A former boss of mine was fond of saying things like, “Go in there.  Smile.  BE NICE!”  More than once she angrily told me after a meeting, “I wish you would learn to be a hypocrite!”  Yes siree, mentoring at its finest right there folks…but I digress.

How many times have you heard something like, “Oh Missy, that dress is just lovely.”, only to later hear that the speaker really thought it looked awful.  Maybe you invited all the kids in your class to your party “just to be nice”.  All the while you secretly hoped certain people would not show up, and if they did, you ignore them. Maybe you even pick on them or talk about them behind their back just loud enough they can hear.

Bravo!  You get a gold star.  You were nice.  Missy’s horrible fashion sense has no chance of improving.  Oh, and that child who felt insecure…yeah, the one who got so excited about being picked to come to a popular kid’s party…well that kid now feels even worse. They are definitely not having a good day.  Never mind that though. Why? Because You. Were. Nice. 

Kindess is the answer

Now, let’s step back from the sarcasm train…not forever.  I promise…and ask if there might be a better way.  There is.  Kindness is the answer. 

If you ask Google to ‘define kind’, you see things like considerate, helpful, loving, and affectionate.  Kindness is making an effort, using the empathy that all living things have to connect with another living thing and taking an action to shift things in a positive direction. 

That’s not bland oatmeal or grits, folks.  Oh, my gods, that is actually treating people with some respect and decency.  How much better would it be if we practiced a bit of that ourselves?  What would the world be like if we taught that to our children?  A whole society of genuinely kind beings rather than superficially nice people.  Sign me up for some of that.

Let’s look back at our examples. 

Missy’s fashion sense

Very few people try to look bad on purpose.  There are a lot of people who are doing the best they can with what they have though.  I bet if you sincerely spent some time getting to know Missy, you might find that she would really appreciate some tips about what goes together to make the most of her body style.  A little shopping, some laughing, having a good time…what’s not to love?  Not everyone is born with an innate sense of fashion.  If they were, we wouldn’t need shows like Queer Eye.  So, if you see someone who might need some help, step up.  Be part of the solution rather than the problem.

The party invitation

There are lots of ways to be kind to the child in the other example. Let’s get the least popular one out of the way first. I firmly believe that if you can’t treat a person with respect and decency, you’re better off not inviting them to your party.  I know hundreds of mothers, including my own, are getting ready to leave nasty comments.  Please don’t. It may sound harsh, but I’m not trying to be. Yes, not getting an invitation will sting, but it will sting a lot less than getting their hopes up and having them smashed.  We’re talking about kindness, not niceness and certainly not some misguided take on fairness.

There is a better option though.  You could choose to be kind.  Invite them to the party, and actually go out of your way make sure they, along with everyone else, feel included.  Who knows?  You might find that you have a lot in common and make a new friend.  Whether you make a new friend or not, I bet you give that person a happy memory they can look back on.  Either way, remember…a key premise with being kind is if you can’t be kind, at least don’t make things worse.

Clarification: What kind is not

Before we go any further, I want to make sure we’re on the same page because I know some of what I’ve suggested might be taken as a license to mistreat people.  Don’t just read the part about not inviting people to your party being the kind thing to do and use that as a reason to be nasty.  Remember, I said the best option was to be kind, invite them, and go out of your way to make them feel included. 

Being real and honest with someone with the intention of hurting them is also not being kind.  In other words, if you honestly think someone is ugly, dumb, smelly, etc. and you “get real” with them so that you let them know what you think in a way that is designed to hurt them, that is not being kind.  It is being mean and being a bully.  There’s an even bigger difference between being a kind and being a bully than there is between kind and nice.  The goal is to be kind.

Nick Nelson

If you need a modern example, we’ll use the latest sensation sweeping the globe and talk about Heartstopper.  What is this you say??? Heard of that, have you?  Everyone awake again?  Being kind sounds a lot more fun with little leaves flying around everywhere, doesn’t it?  Woohoo!  Great!  On with the last example…

Nick Nelson is a perfect example of what I’m trying to demonstrate. He’s not perfect, but when he makes a mistake, he makes it right. There are so many examples of Nick being kind in the books and in the show. 

  • He sees something is up with Charlie, follows him, and defends him from Ben. 
  • He stops Harry when he tries to disrespect Charlie. 
  • Nick goes to Charlie’s house as soon as he can to apologize in person when he hurts Charlie’s feelings. 
  • When he lets Imogen down, he’s honest and sincere about it. 
  • When Nick learns keeping his relationship with Charlie a secret is making Charlie insecure, he works to change that. 

Fortunately for Charlie, for the story, and for my romance-loving, little gay heart, Nick is a wiz at admitting his feelings.  He manages to do a better job of admitting his feelings than most adults I know too, but that’s beside the point.  What is the point?

Someone shouts from the back, “Nick really is a golden retriever!” 

No…well, maybe. Thanks for trying. The point is Nick is kind. That’s probably one of the reasons why the world is so enamored with Nick’s character specifically.  That type of kindness is rare and sorely needed right now. 

Now, some might argue that Nick is acting in his own self interest and not actually being kind.  While channeling my best Hagrid, I say, “THAT’S RUBBISH!” Who said being kind had to be selfless act?  I certainly won’t be telling you that.  This isn’t magic in the fantasy world of The Charmed Ones.  There are no elders scolding us because we benefited from being kind. If your goal is to be kind, and you benefit positively from it too, then count your blessings, call it karma, and roll with it.


So, if you are having trouble figuring out how to be kind, just ask yourself, “What would Nick Nelson do?”  #WWNND 

Picture it! I’m seeing bracelets, t-shirts…a whole marketing campaign.  Mrs. Oseman…you listening?  Just remember, you saw it here, folks.  Not asking much…credit for the idea, cut of the profits, a Nick-type guy of my very own, cameo on season 2 of Heartstopper, be king of the wor…WAIT…what were we talking about again? 

(You probably wouldn’t be shocked to find out someone gave me a mug with that dog from the movie UP! yelling “Squirrel!” because it made them think of me.  Yeah…go on…laugh.  You’re meant to. Heck, I laugh at myself all the time.)

Back to Nick…er, I mean back to being kind…

How can we spread kindness?

  1. We’ve already hit on one of things.  Be kind to yourself.  That is so important. 
  2. Practice and then practice some more.  Being kind takes effort so keep trying.
  3. Show appreciation when people are kind to you.  Not only is it polite, but it will inspire them to be kind again.
  4. Don’t break the chain.  When someone is kind to you, turn around and be kind to someone else. 

A final wish

Let the kindness you put into the world come from a place of goodness whether you are in touch with your sarcastic side like I am or you go full on Nick Nelson.  No one is asking you to be a saint. Your personality can still shine through. If you make a mistake, don’t stress.  Remember to be kind to yourself. Then, get back out there and try again. Life is all about the journey rather than a destination.  You don’t get points for getting their first.  You just have to start.


Want to learn more about kindness? Check out You might also enjoy The Art of Kindness by Meredith Gaston.

Kindness is also one of the topics in another blog of mine. You can read it here. Curious, Kind, and Strong.

If you haven’t seen Heartstopper or read the books, you can see it on Netflix or learn more about the books from Alice Oseman’s site here.

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