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The Difference Between Being Nice and Being Kind

image loading... by Bo Bennett, PhD, Social Scientist, Business Consultant
posted Wednesday Oct 26, 2016 12:00 AM

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Bo Bennett, PhD

Social Scientist, Business Consultant

About Bo Bennett, PhD

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Many years ago while out jogging, I ran into a store because I had to pee badly. The person at the counter was a middle-aged woman with a thick southern accent and a smile on her face that would light up any room. I asked if they had a bathroom I could use, and the cheerful woman informed me that the bathroom was for customers only. I explained to her that I did not have my wallet on me, but otherwise I would be happy to buy something. Without dropping her smile, she said “I am sorry about that sir, but the restrooms are for customers only. Have a wonderful day.” I really didn’t detect any sarcasm or bitterness; she was simply a really nice person who didn’t care about my problems in the least bit. My fourth-grade teacher was the opposite of the counter lady. He was a mean bastard that nobody liked very much, but went out of his way to work with students to make sure they understood the material. He was even known to show up at the students’ houses on the weekends (uninvited) for one-on-one tutoring sessions for those who he felt needed it. This teacher was not pleasant nor was he agreeable—he was, as we put in the fourth grade—a dick. But he was a kind dick who cared more about the well-being of his students than any other teacher I have ever had. On the last day of school, this mean bastard cried like a baby.

Too few people understand that there is a difference between being nice and being kind. Niceness is behavior expressed in facial expressions and language that results in a positive experience, whereas kindness is behavior expressed in action resulting in a positive experience. While similar, acts of kindness generally lead to far greater positive experiences with more utility. Niceness can often be shallow, unauthentic, and useless. Here are some examples:

When a friend’s loved one dies, nice people offer condolences or “thoughts and prayers.” Kind people offer their help, cook a meal for their friend, or stop by and spend time with their friend.
A nice friend will say you look great. A nice and kind friend will tell you that you look great, except for that piece of lettuce in your teeth.
A nice police officer will enthusiastically say “good morning” to you. A nice and kind police officer will enthusiastically say “good morning” to you while helping you put the groceries in your car.
A person who is nice to dogs will greet dogs and say “good doggie.” A person who is kind to dogs will donate to a local animal shelter or adopt one or more dogs from a shelter.
A nice politician will greet people with smiles and say hello to everyone. A kind politician will authentically care about people and do something to make their lives better.
Being kind and being nice are not mutually exclusive. There is no reason your facial expressions and words can’t match your actions. The next time you think you’re being nice, ask yourself how you can be kind, as well.

Podcast Episode: The Difference Between Being Nice and Being Kind

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