The Difference Between Kindness and Niceness

Jesus wasn’t nice. Snow White wasn’t nice. And you shouldn’t be, either.

Pictured: not a “nice” person. (Photo by King Lip on Unsplash)

There is a misunderstanding in the English language about what it means to be “nice”. Somehow, we’ve equated it with kindness — chiefly to the end of gas-lighting the outspoken oppressed, and excusing the bad behavior of the oppressor. Guess where I’m going with this.

In moments like these, I like to pull out my glowing dictionary and get the basics straight. Merriam-Webster defines “niceness” as, “the state or quality of having a pleasant or agreeable manner in socializing with others”, with related words such as amity, cordiality, complaisance, and benignity. A few quick clicks away brings us to “kindness”: a sympathetic, helpful, or gentle nature, characterized by forbearance, grace, and mercy.

So, really, the two are nearly opposites. One is completely external, and one completely internal. One is how we present ourselves, and one is how we really are. One will win you a sea of social media followers, and one will earn you lasting, meaningful relationships. One is almost manipulative, one is genuine. One a facade, one the truth.

If you are a Christian, one is a choice and the other a requirement.

Jesus calls us to be kind, not nice. In fact, looking at what it means to be nice, our Lord and Savior was not at all a nice person. Frankly, He had no time for it. But He was abundantly kind, and it changed hundreds of lives. Read His parables — the prodigal son, the good Samaritan, the widow and the judge — and you will notice that the characters within all demonstrate the critical difference between how nice and kind people treat each other, and which one prospers.

Micah 6:8 tells us The Lord only requires three things of us, when you come down to it. One of them is not to love niceness. He says to love kindness. Love kindness. That’s a hell of a word, you guys.

No fairy tale princess is typically characterized by niceness, either. They are beloved archetypes, filled with the fruits of the spirit: patience, gentleness, self-discipline, and courage — all which can be summed up well by their overwhelming kindness. Niceness requires none of those good qualities; often, niceness is a mask we wear in public, hiding our true selves from others in a shallow attempt to gain their trust or favor. Being kind requires the truest strength, especially when faced with the troubles that always seem to hunt the fair maiden’s life.

If you recall, for example, Snow White is not nice. If she were nice, her evil step-mother would have done away with her long before the forest could devour her, or the dwarves turn her into their personal maid servant, which is what niceness would have done for her. But her kindness is so glaringly obvious, it convinces dumb beasts and a pack of slovenly bachelors to obey her in an instant. And she has the patience and courage to exercise it to the most difficult and ungrateful of them, even when it has her begging the Father to help her deal with him.

Yeah, don’t you dare forget that Snow White prays for God to bless the men who have helped her, and also that Grumpy could be less of an ass to her. It would have been easier for her to just be nice to him, to mince around him and agree with everything he says in a sad effort to make him like her, like so many of us do with people who try our patience. But Snow White is a kind person. She doesn’t take his crap, but she show him love. She prays for him, and continues to kill him with kindness.

And that worked, now didn’t it?

Kindness is Snow White’s strongest trait, and all other good things about her directly follow, easily mistaken for niceness. She is ever cheerful in the face of terrible troubles, but that cheer is genuine, from the joy that showing kindness brings. Her natural inclination to show that kindness leads to ministry — to doing hard, good work with her own hands, showing that she is strong, industrious, and trustworthy. Her patience and self-discipline shine when she is willing to be kind to those who would abuse her. It can be easy to pass her off as nice. Stupidly, foolishly nice, too weak-willed and naive to think of or for herself.

But then, you could say most of the same about Jesus Christ, now couldn’t you?

When you examine this classic character through the lens of kindness instead of niceness, nothing could be farther from the truth. If not The Savior, Snow White is the person we should all aspire to be.

Kindness stands up for itself. Kindness is true to itself. Kindness will continue to be kind, even when it isn’t agreed with or deserved, or even wanted. Kindness can be held accountable for its actions, whether good or bad. Kindness takes on responsibility and commands respect. Everyone deserves kindness.

Niceness rolls over and shows its soft underbelly. Niceness puts on a show to manipulate others, whether for personal gain or basic survival. Niceness decides for itself when it should be bothered. Niceness makes up clever excuses for the times it never showed up by pointing out the few times it stopped by for a minute. Niceness dodges responsibility, both in the moment and when consequences catch up with it. No one respects niceness. No one deserves it, when the truth is always the right answer.

No one tells their children to play kindly with others, to look after one another while standing up to the cruelness they will surely experience on the playground. We tell them to play nicely. We frighten them into playing with children they don’t like, to let others take their things under the guise of sharing, to sit still and let bullies beat them up instead of fighting back, so that people will like them. “What a well-behaved child, who never causes a fuss,” the teachers and other mommies will say, as if fear of rejection were a virtue. As if raising children in this paradigm ever led to anything good in their adult lives.

No fella in the friend zone argues that he’s a kind guy. He’s always such a nice guy. He spent so much time playing to his prey’s good side, waiting for the right moment to strike. “But I was so niiiiiiiiice to you!” he always whines. He never showed you a kindness, and he doesn’t love you, but he’s been so gosh-darned nice in his waiting. Surely he’s earned something for all that effort. Niceness is so easily wasted, and always pissed off about it, have you noticed?

No one ever argues that us ladies should be kinder — stronger, braver, more patient or loving. They only ever want us to be nice: quiet, agreeable, pleasant to the gaze and the ear, and with a big smile that seems to say, “This is fine.” Then no one will have to learn he strength it takes to be kind. No one will need it, if everything is fine.

Jesus calls us to be kind, not nice, for a reason. It won’t just win us a sense of accomplishment here and now; not unlike Snow White, it will grant us a Kingdom of grace and mercy. We can only earn it if we learn to bear that responsibility.

We don’t need more people who are nice to each other. We need more people who are kind to everyone.

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Just sitting here, making waves… #ramblingrose

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