Being Nice Isn’t the Same as Being Kind

 “Three things in human life are important. The first is to be kind; the second is to be kind; and the third is to be kind.”  (Henry James)

Bandalier - New MexicoI think most people would say I am a nice person.  I was raised to be nice.  “Be nice” was one of my mother’s mantras.  It isn’t all that hard to be nice; in fact, it’s easy.  It’s also benign, it’s relatively passive, it’s safe … one can be nice without expending too much energy or investing too much of oneself in others.  One can be nice without risking.

But some years ago, I realized that I want to be more than nice.  I want to be kind.  Kindness is a value I hold dearest.  My life would matter if at the end of it people would say of me, “She was a kind person.”  That would be a life that made a difference.

So, I aspired to be kind, and I think sometimes I was.  But just as often, I was impatient, I was snarky, I was judgmental, I was indifferent or simply oblivious.

Being kind—truly kind—is hard.  Maybe it isn’t difficult for everyone, but it is for me. Nice requires little effort.  I can be nice while also being disinterested, critical, and even sarcastic.  I can’t be kind and be any of those things.  Being kind means caring; it means making an effort; it means thinking about the impact I’m having in an interaction with someone and endeavoring to make it rich and meaningful—to give them what they need at that exact moment.  It means letting go of my judgments and accepting people as they are. Kindness requires me to take a risk.

A life of kindness is not something that I can live only when it suits me.  I’m not a kind person if I’m kind only when it’s easy or convenient.  A life of kindness means being kind when it’s neither convenient nor easy—in fact sometimes it might be terribly hard and tremendously inconvenient.  That’s when it matters most.

I believe that kindness is something I need to recommit to every day.  Setting an intention to be kind is like setting an intention to learn a foreign language or to play the piano—the intention isn’t enough.  One must be willing to devote time and energy to developing the skill, to understanding what is involved … one must practice.

So I have christened 2015 as my “year of living kindly.”

Each day I will recommit to being a kind person and each day I will undoubtedly learn more about kindness—and about myself.  I plan to post about my progress and my ah-has a couple of times a week.  Since there isn’t a kindness switch and I have several decades of self-centered niceness as my fallback behavior, I suspect I will fail as much as I succeed.  However, if I end 2015 a kinder person than I am today, I will have achieved what I am setting out to do.