It has felt, particularly over the past year, like people aren’t being especially nice to each other. These times have been trying, and it’s hard to muster up enough social grace to wave hello to that neighbour who peppered their lawn with political signs of a figure you disdain. But it might be time to reevaluate the value of niceness anyway — because kindness is much more important, and they are not the same thing.
I came across this tweet last week, and as someone who has lived on both sides of the country, it amused me:
When I describe East Coast vs West Coast culture to my friends I often say "The East Coast is kind but not nice, the West Coast is nice but not kind," and East Coasters immediately get it. West Coasters get mad. ????????????
— Jordan Green ???????? ???? ???? (@jordonaut) January 21, 2021
But once I was done being amused (having mentally pictured a stereotypical gruff guy from Philly who would curse at you for shivering when you’re out in the cold without a coat like a dumbass, even as he’s giving you the coat off his own back), Jordan’s point stuck with me. You can be kind without being nice, and you can be nice without being kind. Kindness, as they point out, addresses the need, regardless of tone.
As a both-coaster, I think you nailed it. Once when I was crossing a street in NYC, a bike messenger clipped me. A woman next to me grabbed my arm, yelled, “Fuck you!” at the guy and then turned to me and said, in almost the same tone, “You OK?” Perfect example of NY kindness.
— Mary M McClellan✍️ (@mmmerrimac) January 22, 2021
Obviously, using both kindness and niceness in tandem is ideal. One could hand over one’s coat without being rude about it, after all. But if the current state of things has worn us down so that we need to rebuild one skill at a time, start with kindness.
Do you want nice or do you want honest?
Do you want nice or do you want kind?
Do you want nice or do you want ethical?
Do you want nice or do you want effective?
Nice isn't an indicator of anything. Serial killers are described as "that nice quiet boy next door" so…
— Openly Black Mikki Kendall (@Karnythia) April 23, 2018
Think of kindness as the act that accompanies (or replaces) your words. It’s silently helping a struggling mum of three kids unload her groceries into her trunk, rather than smiling and saying, “You’re doing a great job, mama,” as you breeze past. It’s bringing a pot of soup to your sick friend, rather than sighing sympathetically and saying you hope they feel better soon. You’re kind if you shovel your neighbour’s car out from under a pile of snow, stop to help a stranger change a tire, or pause to give an obviously lost person some directions — even if you’re not the type of person to bother saying “Bless you,” when someone else sneezes.
You may not want to exchange pleasantries with that neighbour who finally took the ridiculous political banner down; but if the wind blows their garbage cans down the street, it would be kind to drag them back over.