About a year ago, I was speaking at a high school in Texas. After my assembly, a senior boy walked up to me and said, “After listening to you today, I realized I am a really nice person.”
I laughed and told him I thought that was great and was about to move on to engage with other kids waiting in line. Then he stopped me and said, “No, you don’t understand. I realized that I am nice, but I’m not very kind.”
A bit confused, I asked, “What do you mean?”
What he said next has stuck with me. “Houston, everyone thinks they are nice, but that is because nice is easy. It’s reactive. Kindness is way harder - kindness is proactive. It requires intentional work.”
He pauses, tears filling up in his eyes. “Kindness requires work - and I think I have a lot of work to do.”
I nodded my head, hugged him, and said, “Yeah man, me too.”
I think it is easy to confuse Nice and Kind. But the difference between the two is clarifying and motivating.
Here’s the problem: everyone thinks they are nice. And, subconsciously, this gives us permission to settle. Nice is unproductive. It doesn’t move the needle forward. It doesn’t shift the status quo.
Why? Nice is easy - it is reactive at its best and self-serving at its worst. If someone is nice to me, I will probably be nice back to them. If I agree with you, I’ll be nice to you. If you drop something, I might pick it up (especially if I know I might get something in return like a thank you, your approval, or your number).
You get the point. Nice is easy because it is “I”-oriented. Do I have time? Do I like you? Do I feel like it? Do I have anything to lose?
Kindness is different - Kindness is proactive.
Someone doesn’t have to drop something in order for us to lift them up or encourage them. Something bad shouldn’t have to happen in order for us to practice making people feel good!
Where Nice is “I”-oriented, Kindness is heart-oriented. It says, “we all need attention and appreciation. We are all deserving of generosity and hope.” It moves beyond feelings and conveniences. It is a deliberate choice to bring encouragement, support, or appreciation to yourself or others.
When we align ourselves with the deep purpose of Kindness, it motivates action even when we don’t “feel like it.” We extend ourselves beyond convenience and comfort (which happens to be the space wherein we grow).
Nice steps back while Kindness steps up. Nice happens when there is time, Kindness happens because we make time. Nice expects something in return, while Kindness is free from expectation.
To put it simply: Nice people don’t change the world, but Kind people can. So we’ve got work to do!
Here are three things you can do over the next three days to be proactively Kind:
- Send an email to a co-worker telling them why you love working with them. Include a gift card for a cup of caffeine.
- Send a text to a family or friend who has been patient with you during long hours or busy weeks thanking them for supporting you doing the work that you love.
- Pick up the phone and call an old educator in your life. It could be a former teacher, a mentor, or a friend who taught you something meaningful. Tell them you are grateful to them for their wisdom and you’d like to connect sometime soon.
Let us know how it goes!
Houston Kraft is the co-founder of CharacterStrong. He is a professional speaker and kindness advocate who has spoken at over 600 events internationally. Student Body President in High School, Class President at Bowdoin College, Leadership Camp Staff for 14 years in Washington - he is a lifelong learner of character, culture, kindness, and leadership. He was featured in 2019 on BBQ Lays Potato Chips and his mom's lasting life lesson is "Hug like you mean it."