I don’t know exactly when or where I heard it but as a kid, someone told me “it’s nice to be important but it’s more important to be nice.” Maybe you’ve heard it, too.
I really like the idea behind this which was to not get “too big for your britches”, as my grandfather used to say, and try to be a decent person. However, it took me a while to realize that this should be modified (though it won’t be as snappy) to read “it’s nice to be important but it’s more important to be kind” because, I don’t know about you, I know plenty of “nice” people, but kindness is a whole difficult ballgame.
I know for a fact that sometimes, I am not very nice. I am trying not to be an asshole (but it’s so easy sometimes and we do have to go with our strengths from time to time). I am trying to not be vengeful, bitter and to watch what and how I say things which is probably difficult for many, and especially for me. I am not proud to admit this but it is the truth. This does not mean that tough conversations do not need to be had in order to bring a level of integrity to relationships that are important and this doesn’t feel very nice. But it comes from a place of kindness. This is a big difference.
When I was going through my divorce, this was by far the most brutal, depressing, unsettling and vicious thing I had ever experienced. And I had a few things to choose from, as I suspect most of us do. All of a sudden, it became the subject that few would even acknowledge around me. I had been coming across other parents and people from my town I knew for over a decade and while everyone was nice, it was hard to find kindness. Sure, people were polite but on the few occasions when things became uncomfortable, it was a different story. It was as if even uttering a phrase like “I’m sorry if you are going through a hard time” would create an obligation for involvement beyond anything other than a tiny glimpse of compassion.
Don’t get me wrong. It’s awkward and uncomfortable to be around. It’s unsettling. It requires a level of empathy that is often hard to locate, find or even summon. That’s sort of the point. Kindness ain’t easy. If this point may still not registering, let me put it as bluntly as I can. Being nice is about you. Being kind is about someone else.
We need a lot less niceness and hell of a lot more kindness these days, if you ask me. It’s easy to be nice. It’s real hard to be kind. Being nice makes it ok to tell a little lie to not hurt someone’s feelings. This nice approach protects us more than whoever is the recipient. Being kind can be easy, too or it might mean finding a way to tell a hard truth.
This is partially why we are where we are today as a society. I actually think most of us have an incredible propensity for being kind. It is a stepping stone to love and we all have it. But we are not rewarded for it and in our overly “woke cancel culture” doing or saying what must be done or said in the name of kindness can often come across as blunt harshness or hurtful.
You may have heard the oft quoted Dalai Lama professing that “my religion is kindness”. Notice he did not say “my religion is niceness”. Kindness requires a level of compassion, empathy, understanding and deliberate action that allows us to really see the other. Niceness does not. Kindness is hard. Real hard. It means that we are not to judge others, or ourselves, based on where we are, how we got here and the decisions we have made. It means we can disagree with them, try to help or understand we cannot help right now. These options can all live together at the same time – and all with the knowledge of maybe not seeming or acting very nicely.
This feel like the right way to move forward from a society to a community and each act of kindness is an act of love. So, if I may not seem very nice to you in the future it’s because I’m challenging myself to find the kind response more and more. When it happens to be covered in a thick, gooey, yummy shell of “niceness”, well that’s a bonus. But if not, please know that I’m at least going for the low-cal version of kindness – all the nutrients without all the bad stuff.
Until next time,