Are niceness and kindness the same? They’re not. Niceness is being agreeable, or pleasant. Kindness is benevolence; being friendly, generous, or considerate. What makes the difference between them important?
There’s nothing wrong about niceness as a quality unless it’s a facade. Niceness has a cunning way of being the smiley face in front of a raw, hard truth. What do I mean by raw truth? The type of person who is unkind at their core. Someone who speaks lovely things but does the opposite. A person who says what you like but behaves questionably could be a “nice” person, because they can be agreeable and pleasant when they need to be, but can easily turn around and be something that ought to cause red flags to flap in the wind.
My favorite part about the definition of kindness is the word “benevolence.” To me, what that spells out is motive; intention. A person who is kind is kind from within. Niceness, on the other hand, can be like a mask you put on or take off at will. It’s not a promise, it’s just a possibility. Kindness is hard to fake, if not impossible. For example, a kind person can also be a nice person. But a nice person is not always kind. A nice person may smile at one person and speak perniciously to someone else. A kind person will make it a point to be the same to both, and to do so thoroughly. Why is this? What’s the difference?
The answer lies in the definition behind the definition: benevolence means “good-natured”, or “good-willed”. The will derives from the core. The core can’t lie; it’s the transparent, raw truth behind the smile. If the raw truth about a person is that they want what is best for a stranger, they will show that regardless of circumstance. But a nice person can be a hit or miss. They may choose shiny behaviors in certain situations, but not always; patience is tried, choices are made, and not always in favor of the one who seeks the goodness and sincerity of kindness.
WHAT YOU SEE IS WHAT YOU GET
Niceness is unnecessary. It’s the “first impression”—a person who smiles and says, “hello.” But that’s the only information you have about that person—a ‘hello’, which, when combined with vocal intonation and facial expression, can come across in a multitude of ways. The translations are all over the place. Ask any actor whose does voice work and they can tell you pitch and pace are of large importance to communicating the lines of a character. Well, in being nice and saying hello, anything could come across, which means the likelihood of it being strictly innocent aren’t highly auspicious. Whereas with a kind person, what you see is what you get, and that’s all there is to it. There aren’t any tests one needs to run, because every one of them ends the same. You can’t ask for a variety pack because it comes in one type only: genuine.
WHAT’S REALLY AT PLAY HERE?
Let’s return to the question: why is the difference important, and why am I pointing it out? I’m a Christian. I believe in Jesus, and Jesus never preached “be nice to everyone!” That isn’t in the Bible. He does however tell us to be unafraid, to love and forgive and to turn to God. Jesus never touches on niceness. So where do we get it in our heads that Christians should be “nice” people? We ought to have kindness since we mean well, sure, but nice? What’s ‘niceness’ in a world of wolves and sheep? Whatever happened to being ‘innocent as a dove and cunning as a serpent”? What about not throwing pearls before swine? What about being so passionate about God’s house as to flip tables with “capitalism > relationship with God” engraved (so-to-speak) on them? This isn’t about niceness! Jesus was not “nice” to strangers, but he showed compassion, understanding, and more notably boldness. He was benevolent. Jesus was KIND. But He wasn’t “the nice guy”. He got into trouble many times. None of these examples delineate niceness.
BUILDING CHARACTER REQUIRES THE RIGHT TOOLS
It really bothers me deeply when people think Christians to be nice people. It’s like a trademark-turned-stigma. Niceness and Christianity are a little like orange juice and vodka: They can taste good together, perhaps, but they don’t serve the same purpose. Likewise, niceness isn’t the front door to a bolder faith life nor a relevant, capable tool to build strong character from. Furthermore, niceness isn’t inspiring. It can almost too easily mistake a person to come across as a visually appealing doormat.
Niceness won’t fight our bloodiest wars nor will it win them. Kindness is sometimes like tough love: sometimes to do the right thing is to do the tough thing. Taking that friend to rehab; turning that abusive friend into the police; getting a restraining order for the person you loved most because enabling them isn’t helping. Kindness is looking out for more than our own interests, it’s looking out for the others’ as well.
THE CORE OF KINDNESS IS WHY IT WORKS
Kindness is good-willed, remember? We’re not trying to get back at people, we’re trying to take care of them in a way that’s both effective and good. The gash wound on someone’s flesh isn’t resolved with a bandaid. The resolution for a person’s chronic lying isn’t to give them a tenth warning. When we act out of niceness, we’re only acting agreeably and pleasantly, but we’re not implementing a consequence or telling that person that it’s over, and we end up working with them instead of working towards the progress of the situation, which ultimately is the only way to actually solve the core problem.
THE MENTAL, SPIRITUAL DISCIPLINES OF A CHRISTIAN
Christians, true Christians who are looking to become bolder, stronger, more faith-filled and more zealous for God in their lives, need not worry about being nice enough. They’re not even thinking about how nice or not nice they are. They’re praying for strength in the hardest parts of their lives. They’re fully aware of which areas of their lives the Devil is prowling in most and what work must be done to resist his involvement. They know where the yellow caution tape is and to not go in that room unless God says so. They know the people not to speak to in order to avoid throwing their pearls before swine. Christians know when a church is more about appearances than actually expanding the kingdom of God. True Christians know when a person is just smiling because they want to come across as pleasant, versus when a person doesn’t smile but their presence is strong, loving, and faith-filled. Sometimes, it’s the serious one we’re safest with, not the one smiling at everything. Sometimes it’s the one passionately arguing with an unbeliever the reasons why science isn’t more an answer to life than the Bible, and whose intention isn’t proselytizing, but genuinely getting an unbeliever on the right page with God.
SOME PROTEIN-STYLE MANNA FOR THOUGHT
Niceness isn’t a Christian trademark, period. The only trademark we need is the risen Christ. He wasn’t nice. He was bold, fearless, committed to His purpose, and unabashedly so. And so we should be too. Unashamedly and purposely focused on becoming a better version of ourselves everyday by turning over our pride and arrogance for humbleness and the courage to live in such a way that makes a difference. That very thought will be the topic of another post, but think about that for a moment. To live in such a way as to be the type of Christian worth emulating is to be one who makes a difference, not the one who is only a solid first-impression-maker. What type of person makes the biggest difference: the one who works through the muck and mire to become a solid character and soul, or the who gets along with everyone he meets because nothing about him challenges us to consider how we too, could be better people?
Something to consider as we celebrate the risen Christ making the biggest difference in all of history.