How to Be Kind Without Being Too Nice
The golden rule is to do unto others as you'd like others to do for you. From an early age, we are taught to mind our manners, speak politely, and to treat others with kindness. But what does kindness look like?
Kindness is frequently confused with niceness. The concept of "niceness" is also taught from an early age, most often to women and girls. However, so often the definition of "nice" is convoluted.
Young women and girls are taught to be agreeable. They are taught to be pleasant and show affection to others, despite personal discomfort. They are taught to avoid coming off as cold or off-putting, and to avoid being bossy, loud, or too opinionated. Think of it as nodding along while others behave any way they choose. It can feel as though you are making yourself smaller to make room for others.
Although this may not be the true definition of nice, we've been taught to believe that it is. Niceness has been socially constructed to mean pushing yourself aside in order to be agreeable to others. This is not truly the spirit of being kind, and can become problematic when people are afraid to speak up for themselves at the risk of being perceived as "not nice."
This is why we need to differentiate between the idea of being nice and being kind.
Move to kindness
Oxford Languages defines kindness as being friendly, generous, and considerate. Kindness is being courteous to others, without feeling pressure to be overly agreeable. Kindness is treating others how you’d like to be treated, just not necessarily at the expense of yourself.
Kindness shows us that we can be simultaneously gentle and strong. We can be polite, while also communicating our boundaries.
Take the difference between niceness and kindness in this scenario. Let's say someone makes a misogynistic joke at a party. The "nice" response is to smile and politely laugh at the joke, even if you find it repulsive. This inadvertently encourages the person to spread the joke at someone else's expense. Alternatively, a "kind" response may be to say, "Those jokes are not my cup of tea," or "I would appreciate it if you didn't make jokes at the expense of others."
In doing so, you are not only demonstrating kindness, but you are modeling appropriate behavior for others — rather than laughing and going along with a scenario that could be problematic.
You can also communicate kindness through body language, even if your message is a strong and direct one. Instead of plastering a big fake smile on your face, you can deliver a message in a way that communicates you don’t mean any harm. For example, leaning in, having an open posture, or even having a slight smile on the lips (sometimes called a half-smile) are ways to convey kindness, even when you are keeping a boundary or holding firm on an issue.
Ultimately, kindness is a way to communicate warmth and openness, without being a doormat.
Go forth and be kind, not nice
The myth of niceness is that in order to be a good person, you have to let others walk all over you. Niceness has been equated to agreeableness, and too often people are over-agreeable in order to please others. Unfortunately, being over-agreeable comes at the expense of ourselves.
You can communicate kindness in non-verbal ways like a small smile, open posture, and making gentle eye contact. Kindness can be gentle and strong at the same time. Kindness is compassionate respect, whereas niceness is simply agreeing. Which trait would you rather embody?