October 1, 2019

Nice vs Kind
One of the many unintended side effects of becoming a parent is that you're forced to develop a new relationship with the English language. I don't mean that you'll instantly gain an understanding of homophones, homonyms, and homographs— no such luck. What I mean is that you'll learn that "sit on the couch" can mean a multitude of different things, ranging from the traditional butt-on-seat variation, to many other more creative arrangements that could end with a butt placed in a number of surprising locations.

For example, I remember a time when I told my son to go into his room to put on a pull-up before bed. Well, he did exactly that. It wasn't until the next morning that I learned that what I should've said was "Take off your underwear, and then put on a pull-up."

When I was preparing Noah for kindergarten, I spent a lot of time talking to him about the importance of being "kind" and, of course, that required an explanation of what I meant by that. My initial explanation was probably something along the lines of "You know, like, nice or whatever ..." but when you really think about it, being nice and being kind aren't really the same thing, are they?

According to my old friend Merriam-Webster, to be nice is to be pleasant or agreeable. To me, this describes a behavior or a particular style of social interaction. Nice is something that can be turned on when you clock in at work and turned off the moment your shift ends. Nice is great for job interviews and first dates. Nice is common, but not necessarily always genuine. Politicians are (almost) always nice because being nice gets you votes.

Don't get me wrong, I want my son to be nice, but not nearly as much as I want him to be kind.

Old lady Merriam's definitions of kind include words like "helpful," "gentle," and "loving"—all words that fall right in line with the lesson I wanted to teach my son. "Nice" is a way to behave, whereas "kind" refers to the kind of person you are. Kind people aren't kind because it could possibly yield rewards, or because it's part of a job description. Kindness is a result of a genuine desire to help other people and do good. When my grandmother forces "soda money" into my pocket before I leave her home, she's doing it out of kindness.

Nice and kind are two words that are similar in definition, but far from interchangeable. Nice people aren't hard to find: go to any Starbucks or Chick-fil-A and you'll find dozens of them ready to provide you with the best dining experience possible. Truly kind people, on the other hand, are a little harder to find. These are the people who go out of their way to help others and do good, no matter the reward.

I think the best thing for all of us is to try to be at least a little bit of both. What about you?

How do you teach a child what kindness is and how to be kind? Seems like there's a lot of example giving in that one. How do you try to teach others how to be kind? How much of being kind is internal, like a personality trait?

Written by Justin Fantroy

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