Being kind is different than being nice. Most of us are nice most of the time. Being nice is something we are taught to us from the time we are little kids: Be nice to your Sister. Share your toys. Help your mother with the dishes.
It’s nice to be nice. It feels good to do something thoughtful for someone else and it usually only takes a minute or two. Being nice is good, but it is different than being kind.
Kindness requires us to offer two things that can be very difficult to give in our world today: empathy and time.
Empathy means putting yourself in another person’s place. Often that means slowing down and offering your time to another person when they really need you.
It’s nice to send someone a text or an email when they are having a hard time. Kindness means taking the time to pick up the phone and call them. Kindness is stopping by someone’s house to sit with them and just listen.
It’s nice to offer a homeless person a dollar on the street, but a kindness might be to stop and tell them that you are thinking about them and that you hope things get better for them soon.
Sometimes kindness can be very hard to offer because it can be uncomfortable. It can be hard to sit with someone who is dealing with difficult things in their life. We typically want to try to ‘fix’ the problem, when often there is nothing that you can do. But offering your time, just being there and listening is a kindness that few people are willing to offer these days.
This difference between nice and kind is often most apparent to me when I think of my wife and myself. I’m a nice guy. I think most people would say that of me. I am friendly to people, I’m a good guy at work, I have good manners, and I generally try to do the right thing.
My wife, on the other hand, is kind. She invests herself with both time and genuine empathy for others. Not only does she do volunteer work, but she also takes the time to sit with people and get to know them. She goes out of her way to slow down and listen to people when she can tell they are struggling.
Here’s an example of what I mean.
A member of my family has been having some health issues lately. I have been reaching out regularly via text and phone to check in and see how they are doing. I’m doing what I can to try to support them from a distance since they live 6 hours away. I’ve been very supportive, and I know it helps raise their spirits when I call. I’m very nice to them.
On the other hand, my wife was talking to a friend of hers the other day whose child is struggling in high school and with finding their way in general. They are family friends, so we know their kids. With the mother’s permission, my wife reached out to this young man and went and met him for coffee. She spent over an hour with this kid talking about his ambitions, dreams, hopes for the future, sharing her experiences, etc.
She never tried to change the kid, just showed him understanding and invested her time and compassion in him, and she came home feeling amazing.
That is kindness. It is that willingness to go the extra mile to invest yourself in another person. In my mind, that takes more than caring; it takes courage.
You never know what you’re going to get when you truly put yourself out there for another person. Sometimes you have a great experience where you both feel better. Other times you may just feel sadness and a sense of frustration that you can’t do more to help the other person.
Extending kindness isn’t always clean and easy. But I can guarantee you that no matter the outcome, investing yourself in others you will have made a ripple of love and kindness in the ‘universal pool.’ That ripple can spread far and wide, making the world a much better place.