Nice vs. Kind

While doing some Fall cleaning and organizing, I found a small, worn piece of paper from high school. At the top of the page was my name, and under it was a few words or sentences from each of my classmates, saying something positive about me. It was from one of those team building exercises teachers do for fun, in hopes that it would make us feel good about ourselves and each other. I had a lot of “she’s nice” or “she’s sweet and smart” on my paper. I even got a surprising (to me), “she’s funny.”

While I don’t expect my teenaged, high school classmates to possess a great ability to be descriptive or know me very deeply back then (what the hell did they know? What the hell did I know?), I did wonder about their perceptions of me. Was I really that nice? Am I really that nice? What the hell does NICE mean?

Then few days later, I asked my husband for his thoughts on an email response I wanted to send to someone, and he replied: “I think you’re being too nice. Why not just say what you want to do or  not do?”

Huh? I didn’t even think I was being nice at all. But since the nice word came up again, I began questioning everything. (Que existential crisis).

I don’t think of myself as nice. In fact, I think I’m more blunt and honest than most people are, and I find no one attributes those qualities with nice. When I think of people who are nice, I think of push-overs. I think of people who willing to do things for you regardless of how they truly feel about them, or people who act a certain way because they really, really want you to like them. I often feel skeptic of their motives.

As I do love a good quibble over semantics (who doesn’t, tho?), I turned to the Great Internet of Things to see if I’m alone (i.e. justified) in the world with my thoughts about nice people.

In Thought Catalog’s post, “Why You Should Be A Nice Person”, Ryan O’Connell says:

“It seems like everyone holds being nice in a high regard but no one actually wants to be known as The Nice Person. And who could blame them? It has been engrained in our culture that being nice gets us nowhere. We finish last, we become the boring friend in our social circle. It’s like the kiss of death. And in some cases, it’s a fair assumption. People are interesting because of their opinions, because they have something to say. Nice people are often assumed to have no opinions… I used to not care about nice people. Like many others, I found them to be dull, but then I realized I was only seeing a specific breed of nice. Believe it or not, there are people who are both kind AND interesting…”

I found a lot of posts and articles about why you should be nice (it’s good for your health, it’s better for the world as a whole, blah, blah, blah). Sure. But I think they are using the wrong word, or using it interchangeably with “kind” when they shouldn’t, and should instead use something like “generous” or “altruistic”.

Side note: I discovered that the word “nice” has some suspect origins: “The English word nice came from an Old French word with the same spelling that meant “foolish.” [Heh]. This Old French word came in turn from a Latin word nescius that meant “ignorant.” At first, English nice meant “foolish” or “frivolous.” Later it came to mean “finicky” or “fussy.” Not until the 1700s did nice come to mean “pleasing” or “pleasant.”

Here’s what it boils down to: there is being nice (pleasing; pleasant) and there is being kind (wanting or liking to do good and bring happiness to others; considerate).

The Huff Post’s “Why You Should Stop Being Nice and Start Being Kind” categorized the two words into two different types of people. I think both types ultimately want do and be good, but the approach and the outcomes are different. I geeked out and made the article into a chart to see the differences side-by-side:


Others agree that “nice” and “kind” are totally different. Kayla Matthews, in her article on Life Hacker says,

“You can have strong opinions and still be a kind person. You can stand up for yourself and still care about what someone has to say. Human beings are dynamic like that. It’s not in anyone’s best interest if you go out of your way to be nice. In fact, being nice can be detrimental to you and those around you in a number of ways.”

The earlier mentioned Huff Post article ends with a “simple” solution for us nice people to fuck nice-ness and become more like the kind people:

“The solution for the nice person is simple: he must stop looking outside himself for love and approval. Once he takes responsibility for his own self-worth, he’ll start working on developing his own positive self-regard. When he begins to love and accept himself, he’ll be able to let go of needing to please, and he’ll notice that interestingly, others are responding to him better.

A positive spiral is created, whereby he’s in charge of his self-worth, he’s treated with more respect, his anger diminishes, his feelings of trust and connection with others increase and his self-esteem improves even more. Eventually, without even thinking about it, he’ll shift from being nice to being kind.”

I don’t know about you, but I’m going to work on being kind. The kind of kind that isn’t nice.