I’ve been thinking a lot lately about the difference between being nice and being kind.
I was having a conversation with a friend of mine who also used to be a people pleaser. (There are few things more encouraging than finding and talking to people who used to be people pleasers and now are completely not that way at all.) He told me how he felt that in some ways, in order to change who he was and stop being a people pleaser, he had to swing to the other extreme for a time. But now he was at the place where he was hoping to become kinder and more generous.
A few days later Justine Musk posted her brilliant piece on nice vs. kind that does a great job defining terms, and everything clicked together for me.
Since I know not all of you are going to read her essay, I’ll quickly define the difference. Nice is doing things because you’re supposed to, because you feel you have to, because it’s expected, because you’re being pressured into it in some way, because you don’t feel you have the option to say no. Kind is doing things because you want to: you want to help, you want to be there for someone, you want to give of yourself.
When you’re a people pleaser, when you’re nice all the time, you have trouble telling the difference between nice and kind. And forcing yourself into constant niceness erodes the capacity to be kind. Why? Because you are tired. Because you have nothing left to give.
In order to stop being a people pleaser, you have to start saying no. You have to pay conscious attention to the difference between nice and kind, and it’s difficult, and it takes a lot more energy than it would usually take. And my friend was correct. You swing over to the other side, because you’re saying no to being nice, but you haven’t yet built up your reserves to the point that you can be kind as often as you’d like.
I know because this is where I am right now. I want to be kind. But sometimes I can’t. And sometimes I’m accidentally nice, and sometimes I don’t have the energy NOT to be nice. Because as exhausting as it can be, nice is what I’m used to. Nice is my default setting, and as such, it’s what I tend to fall back on when I’m stressed or tired or in any way not one hundred percent.
Resetting a default, I’m finding, takes a lot of time and patience and mistakes and experimentation.
But I’m making progress. Understanding how kind is different than nice is a part of that progress. I am a lot less nice than I used to be. I say things that people don’t want to hear. I allow people to be uncomfortable instead of automatically smoothing things over. I say no and take care of myself instead.
Nice is something I’m happy to leave behind. Kindness is what I have to look forward to.
What about you? Do you have trouble telling the difference between nice and kind? What kind of balance do you try to strike between kindness and taking care of yourself?