Kind vs. Nice

This was written by Elizabeth Gilbert. It comes up on my Facebook memories every year and I think we need it this year more than most.


I think there is something different about being "kind", than being "nice".

I think "niceness" perfectly fine (I certainly strive to be nice to people) but it doesn't go very deep. Niceness is a social construct — a mannered way of keeping things polite. You can be "nice" to someone while still sort of hating them. You can be nice through clenched teeth and strained nerves. Niceness can be dishonest, and sometimes has to be dishonest — just to keep the peace. A calm salesclerk can be nice to a rude customer, for instance, because his training and his civilized manners have taught him how to act nice, even in frustrating situations. A lot of niceness is all about training. You can be nice to relatives you don't like. You can be nice to your friends about their badly behaved children, or nice to your neighbor's husband who's an idiot.

To a large extent, basic human niceness is what keeps the world functioning without us all strangling each other. At the base of niceness is a polite wish for everyone to just get along, damn it, and therefore I'm all for it. Without "niceness" every crowded airplane and subway car and waiting room and family reunion would be even more difficult than it already is.

But kindness is deeper. Kindness is better. Kindness is soft and real and true and bottomless. Kindness never patronizes, never puts on an act. Kindness never judges. Kindness never clenches its teeth. Kindness never blames. Kindness sees the situation from every angle, and even when weary, Kindness always finds the empathy to say. "That's OK. These things happen. Life is hard."

Kindness says to the angry person, to the bitter person, to the difficult person, to the scary person: "I may not understand you, but I understand that it's difficult to be a human being, and I'm sorry you're suffering. We are all just children of God here, doing our best."

Kindness knows that there's no difference between you and me.


My goal is to be kind in all situations. I don't always achieve it. Especially when I'm tired or anxious, I can't always hold onto my kindness. It's worth the effort, though. I never regret kindness when I practice it well, but, man, do I regret every lapse of kindness I have ever suffered.

My prayer is to be kind, all the the way through, 24 hours a day, forever, to everyone.

It's a high aspiration, but, hey — a girl can dream, a girl can aspire, and a girl can practice.

In the meanwhile (during the very large and frequent gaps in my kindness) I will, at the very least, try to be nice.

It's a start, dear ones. It's a start.

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