Have you noticed that there is a difference between being nice and being kind? Once you are aware of the two concepts, it’s hard to unknow it. The two are often equated because there is some overlap. Being nice is a passive state. Being kind is an active state.
The word “nice” is a generic term to describe something or someone as agreeable or not disgusting. Niceness is a low bar to leap. Anyone can be nice by inaction. Nice is the opposite of unpleasant.
The word “kind” implies action. One can be kind by showing courtesy, or performing a good turn. A benefactor is a kind person. Often times, a person must go out of her or his way to be kind to other living beings. Kindness is compassion in action. It is the polar opposite of rudeness.
To be kind during adversity is a show of authentic strength. I think of the stories I’ve read about the Holocaust when inmates of Nazi concentration camps suffered unbearable hardships. There were some prisoners among the crowds who did their best to show kindness. Perhaps they shared their crusts of bread, or offered consolation to their fellow sufferers. To keep from self-centeredness and self-pity took super-human strength. To perform kind acts during such horrific conditions enabled people to maintain hope and stay alive.
These days, we notice there is a culture of self-indulgent meanness. Noteworthy celebrities, clergy, and politicians are not merely unpleasant, they are actively cruel and self-serving. Their behavior belies the temptation to be selfish and exclusionary. When this is pointed out to them, Their blowback can be violence. We might call their actions “random acts of unkindness”.
Meantime, random acts of kindness or small gestures of benevolence can have a transformative effect on the recipient and the giver. I saw an example of this while sitting in the waiting room at our medical clinic this Tuesday. An elderly woman stated her name to the receptionist who was checking her in for an appointment. Mildred apologized for her name and stated that she hated her name because “Mildred sounds old-fashioned and stodgy”.
After Mildred hobbled to a chair, a middle-aged woman remarked that Mildred is a lovely name. She explained to Mildred, that one of her aunts was a Mildred, too. The aunt was a wonderful person who once taught elementary pupils in a country school. The middle-aged woman expressed that the name “Mildred” always reminded her of gracefulness and beauty. Although the safety mask worn by the elderly Mildred concealed her lower face, I could see that Mildred was smiling because of the appearance of her eyes. I’m sure something profound had just happened to Mildred and also to the middle-aged woman.
The kindness of strangers, such as the middle-aged woman in the waiting room is powerful because of its spontaneity. The beautiful story about the aunt Mildred told to the elderly patient, Mildred, was one of those times that stand out to me the most. When a stranger comforts another stranger without prompts, the act of kindness radiates hope and love. To witness such an act is humbling. I felt privileged to overhear the story.
It’s helpful to remember that kindness can be used by manipulative people as a way to get what they want. That’s why it’s important to be skeptical in a positive way, or discerning, if we are the recipient of an act of kindness. Experience and intuition can help us determine whether the kindness is being used as bait or if the deed is performed as a boon out of respect and true caring. The selfless sharing of the middle-aged woman in the waiting room was genuine. There was no obligation intended nor implied by her kindness to the elderly Mildred. In other scenarios, the elderly Mildred would be wise to question the authenticity of the kindness.
My life was altered in many ways each time someone took the time and had the patience to listen to me and share their experiences. They forsook judgmental attitudes and interacted with empathy and kindness when I needed it most. The lasting impacts of those interactions were major.
In a world that glorifies and displays hatred, fear, and cruelty, it is the positivity of kindness that provides a glimmer of hope for society. When we share benevolence in word and in deed with others, we show caring, love, and strength of character.
The Blue Jay of Happiness quotes member of the Indian Parliament, Rahul Gandhi. “What we see before us is a politics devoid of kindness and truth… Today, politics is not being used in the service of the people; it is being used to crush them, not to lift them up.”