Certain words have burrowed their way into my psyche, taking up residence there, shaping the things I do and say for years before I stop to examine them. Once examined, I may try to uproot them, attempting to rid my mind of an influence better left unplanted. One such word: nice. For years, I have longed to be nice, been exhorted to be nice, been told that nice was important. In order to be seen as nice, I have set aside my own thoughts, feelings and desires. I've swallowed words, turned the other cheek and melted into the background. All for the elusive nice. I say elusive because can we ever really be nice?
Only recently have I begun to ponder the contrast between nice and kind. As a parent, I encourage my children to be kind, but I rarely admonish them to be nice. The difference in my mind is that nice refers to outward appearance and perception by others, while kind is about the heart. One word describes an action, the other sees the motive behind the action.
The definitions of these words bear this out. If nice is pleasant, agreeable and satisfactory, kind is having a friendly, generous, and considerate nature. Nice is about how others see you. Kind is about who you really are. I want to be kind. I'm not so sure I can continue to try to be nice.
If I am going to learn to sit with my feelings, I can't be preoccupied with what others think about those feelings. I can't be unwilling to feel something that is unpleasant or disagreeable. In fact, as I've begun to examine my feelings, I often find them less than satisfactory. I have far more fear than I ever would have imagined. Have I been repressing that for so long because it wasn't received well by those around me? Perhaps.
I find it interesting that without even realizing why, I gravitated as a parent to encouraging my children to be kind rather than nice. It's not that I don't want them to be nice - I do. I want them to be pleasant to be around. I want others to find them agreeable. But I want these things to flow from who they are, not result from a pressure to conform to an outward standard. When I get right down to it, I would far prefer that my daughters be honest and true to themselves than be nice. I love it when the two things converge, but they don't always.
A friend recently said, "Jesus was kind, but he was not nice." Pause and think about that for a minute. Do you conflate nice and kind? Are you one but not the other? Which do you want to be? Jesus was not worried about what others thought about him. He did not fear being judged different or outlandish. But he was kind - oh so kind - to those who least deserved it, to those who needed it most, to those overlooked by the higher-ups in his world.
I want to be kind - to others and myself. I want to allow those around me the space to be who they really are, without fear that I will judge them or belittle them. I want to be generous with myself and allow my feelings room to expand and be seen without overtaking my rational thought. I want to be someone who is unafraid of being kind and unconcerned with being nice.
I want to plant words in the hearts of my daughters that allow them to grow into who they are. I don't want to leave vines labelled "nice" running up their hearts and constricting them when they should be free to beat away with kindness, generosity and abandon. I want words that are about who they are, not just what they do, to be the ones that burrow in to stay.