Prompted by World Kindness Day and thoughts on why we need such a thing, I got to thinking about the difference between being nice and being kind.
Someone much wiser than me said that your reputation is what people say about you when you’re not in the room. On that basis I doubt if I’ve ever been described as nice, whereas I know I’m definitely seen as kind.
So what’s the difference?
Well, customer service people are taught to be nice but you can’t teach people to be kind. Kindness comes from a much deeper motivation.
Things can be nice without being kind, and vice versa. The distinguishing factor seems be that nice is about pleasing people whereas being kind is more complex.
Being nice and pleasing people may stall when we’re in difficult situations. Telling someone bad news is almost guaranteed not to please them but if the information will help them in the long run and comes from the desire to be benevolent it can be considered a kind action, without being a nice one.
One of my favourite books is Stephen Covey’s The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People in which he talks about the difference between character and personality ethics. The personality ethic is more concerned with external social skills such as smiling and hand shaking while the character ethic is about living according to principles.
It is easy to be nice but not always the most helpful thing to do. Being kind is a different matter.
I won’t always be nice, but if I am kind then that will make far more of a difference.