Kindness is more than being nice. It is an internal quality more than a set of behaviors. Is it more important to be nice or kind?
I shared with a friend some personal definitions which have helped me to better understand the quality of kindness. I told her about a a person we both knew who had used the phrase “be nice like me.” My definition of “nice” is more about socially acceptable behavior and “kind” more of a quality involving true concern and consideration of others. Somehow this “clicked” with this friend and she has shared this distinction with others. She has told me that this has become a guide for her in personal interactions.
Common Courtesy & Civility
In the past, manners were taught to children. Certain things were not said or done in “polite society”. There were clear rules of appropriate speech and behavior. Today some of these social rules may seem overly strict, restrictive, pretentious or even unnecessary or stupid. They did serve a purpose, however, in creating and maintaining order in society. They help to make us “civilized.”
Manners may be a very surface level of kindness. There can be a number of possible underlying intentions, only one of which is genuine kindness.
During my lifetime, I have seen a disturbing pattern. I frequently see rudeness and insults presented as entertaining humor. That which is vulgar, crude, and disgusting has become commonplace. Such behavior and talk has been tolerated and then accepted. The lines between proper and unacceptable have become blurred. I find this rather disturbing.
A World of Political Correctness
We live in a world of Political Correctness, which is like “selective kindness.” Certain words and actions are “politically correct”. Other words or actions, or failure to comply with correct ones, can get one in much trouble and may result in negative labels, accusations or ostracization. Certain groups – usually those who have previously been treated badly – must be treated with kindness. It is required to accommodate, and validate them, often in very specific ways. Others – especially those who fail the tests of “political correctness” – are treated with contempt. And that is justified because their failure makes them unworthy of kindness?
I have learned that it is very possible to be “nice” – politically correct or polite – while also being very self-centered and even manipulative. Niceness is a tool many have learned to use to get what they want, even if what they want is simply to be accepted into a social group or thought of as a good person. People seek attention or validation through behaviors.
Acts of kindness can even be an attempt to convince ourselves that we are a good person. Some seek attention or approval for doing good deeds as a way to validate themselves. Niceness can be used as a way to make up for failings.
Genuine kindness is an inner quality. It is as aspect of one’s character. It is expressed in considerate, understanding and compassionate behavior, but is much more than the behavior or words. It is part of a turning outward with real consideration for others’ needs and feelings, and less concern about ourselves.
Kindness is an aspect of charity. It springs from genuine love of others. We truly want what is best for all and our behavior toward them reflects this desire.
Kindness is not simply pleasing another. In fact, sometimes the most kind thing we can to is tell someone “no.” Kindness considers long term, real needs, not just immediate desires. Good, kind, loving parents know and practice tough love.
Kindness is wise. Kindness does not attempt to take over another’s agency or self-reliance. It can sit back and let someone struggle knowing that they will learn from experience. Kindness has no desire to create dependency by doing for others what they can do for themselves, but kind people will be loving as supportive as other struggle.
Truly kind people treat everyone kindly because that is the kind of people they are. They are not selective, or judge another’s worthiness or need. They are kind to those who can not or will not reciprocate with kindness. I am fortunate to know many such people.
As I strive to become a more kind person, I realize that though respect, manners and courtesy are important, my desire is to develop a kinder heart so that kind treatment of others is simply part of my nature.