Are You So Nice that You’re Unkind?

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“In the world where you can be anything, be kind.” Unknown

My husband John and I came into our marriage with very different ways to solve a problem, and we both thought our way was the kind one.

I’m honest. I say whatever comes to mind that I think might help him understand why I’m upset. I figured he wanted to hear what I had to say because I wanted him to speak up about his upset moments – share the problem, tell me what I did to contribute to it, and spend another 30 minutes analyzing the pain and coming up with a solution. Then hug and live like Cinderella.

My way seemed sensible, as well as kind. I never understood the saying “brutally honest” because I wanted to hear the truth. I didn’t like someone hinting at what was wrong, skirting issues instead of being straightforward, or convincing us they weren’t angry or hurt until their surprise attack. I may not have liked or agreed with what they said, but I valued candor.

John, on the other hand, preferred niceness in hopes of avoiding any kind of confrontation. He’d rather offer to take me out for dessert than discuss why he checked his cell phone at dinner. He equated being nice with being kind. His favors were fine until I realized they were meant to replace talking about problems.

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My honesty and his niceness often clashed, escalating our discussions to arguments. He couldn’t figure out why I didn’t appreciate him being nice. I couldn’t explain why I thought he was uncaring. All I knew was that when I tried talking to him about an issue and, instead of listening, he offered to wash dishes, my stomach knotted up and I wanted to whack him with a dirty plate.

We ended up arguing off topic. We’d debate why I didn’t thank him for helping in the kitchen instead of why he wouldn’t leave his phone alone for 30 minutes. Our arguments reminded me of interactions with Mom. One time that stands out was the day she broke a white figurine I made in art class. She glued it back together, which was fine, but then she drew along the cracks with a black permanent marker. The more I cried, the more nice things she offered to do for me. She wanted me to invite a friend over to bake cookies. I wondered why she thought socializing and sugar would be an adequate substitute for sympathy and an apology, which is what I wanted even as young as eight.

Keeping It Going …

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The way Mom tried to fix problems made no sense to me, so I married someone like her. I know, that doesn’t make sense either. John married someone like his mom (me) who wanted to tell him what he did wrong. I hoped my suggestions would help fix our marriage and family. Just so you know, we’re one of many odd couples. A lot of us marry someone similar to one of our parents because recreating “home” is comfortable even if it’s crazy. Like a friend said, “If you can’t heal your relationship with your mom and dad, you pick people like them and try to get it right for the rest of your life. That is, unless you fix yourself.”

Like John’s mom, I valued dialogue and directness.

Like my mom, John valued silence and discretion.

For decades, we had no idea we repeated family patterns or even that there were patterns. We didn’t know to honor each other’s differences or to knock off being so hard on each other. John could have listened when I talked about what bothered me. I could have been less blunt when discussing those things.

Instead, we kept doing the same things again and again until repetition and insanity, which is doing the same thing repeatedly and expecting different results, nearly cost us our relationship.

I called him mean because his niceness felt manipulative – a way to get me to shut up. The nicer he was, the less I thought he cared about me.

He thought I was unkind because I criticized him and critiqued the nice things he did – my way of trying to explain issues he didn’t want me to feel about or talk about.

It came to a head when he said, “I have no idea why being nice is never good enough for you. Why won’t you just accept me being nice?”

I screamed, “I can’t stand you being nice. You know what’d be nice? If for a change, you tried kindness.”

Kindness

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The word caused both of us to catch our breath, …

and hold it a moment.

I wondered if the difference in wording really mattered as much as it seemed to in the car that day. I looked up both words in the dictionary and the thesaurus, googled quotes for each one, and even plugged them into Pixabay.com to see what photos popped up for “kind” versus “nice.”

Merriam-Webster.com defined the adjective “kind” as sympathetic and helpful; of a forbearing nature; affectionate and loving.

Synonym’s for kind included benevolent, compassionate, good-hearted, humane, kindhearted, kindly, softhearted, tender, warmhearted.

The same site described “nice” as pleasing and agreeable; appropriate; socially acceptable; virtuous and respectable; polite.

Compared to kind, the list of synonyms for nice included worldly words like agreeable, congenial, darling, delectable, delicious, delightful, enjoyable, gratifying, and pleasing, although it also had a couple of spiritual words on it like grateful and blessed.

Quotes about kindness conveyed intensity and insight like these two by unknown writers:

“If we all do one act of random kindnessdaily, we just might set the world in the right direction.”

“Use your voice for kindness, your ears for compassion, your hands for charity, your mind for truth, and your heart for love.”

The only quote I found that used the word “nice” in the context we’re talking about here, well, it had the depth of a puddle:

“Let’s face it, a nicecreamy chocolate cake does a lot for a lot of people; it does for me.” Audrey Hepburn

On Pixabay.com, photos for the word “kind” showed an old man’s gentle face, a baby’s wrinkled feet, and aged hands folded like in prayer.

The pictures that represented “nice” included a rabbit, some kittens, and a few hunky guys, but mostly suggestive images of women, the kind a man would look at and say, “Nice.”

The Spirit of the Word

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“But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control. Against such things there is no law.” Galatians 5:22-23

Throughout our 40-year marriage until more recently, we showed little compassion for each other because that would have left one or both of us defenseless. We shared the sin of self-protection by being faux kind and constructively critical. Genuine kindness would have meant being vulnerable. We would have had to put our hurt aside and connect and care about each other.

A gentler relationship is one of the benefits of living by the fruits of Spirit, which are the nine attributes in the quote above. Applying them with the help of the Holy Spirit means we shelve our egos and focus on being godly. We find ourselves being gracious instead of trying to get back at the other person. We go first instead of waiting on the other person to behave like we want. The end result is a kind marriage, not one where we talk like Elaine on Seinfeld, “Oh, that’s nice.”

“You will never look into the eyes of someone God does not love. Always be kind.” Unknown

 My awakening about kindness reached far beyond my marriage.

  • We’re acting niiice (said with a Southern drawl and a self-indulgent attitude) when our relationships are about what we can get from the other person. We’re kind when we expect nothing.
  • We’re acting nice when we only care about getting our way. We’re kindwhen we serve.
  • We’re acting nice when we’re looking good, but our motives are selfish. We’re kindwhen we’re true to ourselves.
  • We’re acting nice when we’re scheming to assure others like us. We’re kindwhen we accept that their opinion of us is none of our business. We get on with our lives.
  • We’re acting nice when we pretend to be easygoing even though we’re control freaks. We’re kindwhen we concede and consider others. We can’t love and control at the same time.
  • We’re acting nice when we overlook stuff we don’t like, but never ever forget it. We’re kindwhen we talk it over and forgive.
  • We’re acting nice when we rally an army of friends to take our side and gossip. We’re kindwhen we talk to the person we have a problem with and share how we feel gracefully.
  • We’re acting nice when we ask questions to be nosey, but pretend we’re interested. We’re kindwhen we genuinely care about the answers.
  • We’re acting nice when we tradeoff gifts, money, or time for attention and accolades. We’re kind when we give freely.
  • We’re acting nice when we justify our unacceptable behavior even though we know better. We’re kind when we do the right thing especially when no one’s watching.

I didn’t intend for “nice” to end up with a bad reputation, but it fell far short of being kind. When we practice kindness, its transformative power in our lives is immeasurable. I’ve since looked at relationships where I may have substituted niceness for what I really want to be, which is kind.

Am I a nice friend or a kind one? A nice mother or a kind one? A nice writer or a kind one? A nice Christian or a kind one?

It’s made all the difference to consider the difference. #whilelovingthepeopleinit #nice #kind

In This Together,
Kim

On the side: An interesting blog post about brutal honesty. Click below to read it.

Why brutal honesty is a mistake — and the one time it’s not

 

 

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9 responses »

    • Good to see you too, Andrew! I’m so sorry you’re not feeling well, but I’m always happy when you show up here no matter what you write. I just wanna know you’re still kicking. You always offer Hope. ❤

  1. Kim
    A Nice Article, but then am I being kind?
    I like the word Compassion – to suffer with.

    Agnes and I have known each other since 1952 and in our closing years are still working on our relationship.

    “Jesus has many lovers of His heavenly Kingdom but few cross bearers. Many desire His consolation but few His tribulation. Many will sit down with him at table but few will share His fast. All desire to rejoice with him but few will suffer for Him.” Thomas A Kempis
    Thomas reminds that our desires for our own good are natural and human. To suffer with Christ or a loved one is a constant will act. This is how we move to our true Joy.

    When Agnes learned of her cancer 4 ½ years ago, “We” got Cancer. There are times when I see Christ in her suffering, but too many times I just want to do what I need to do for her and get back to my “routine”. (My routine includes reading your blogs.)

    Being a human is easy: Being a human who totally loves Christ is a lifetime effort.

    It is obvious that you and John are in love. Come together in Christ. Remember that, lower your mutual expectations and relax. Now was I being nice or kind or something else?

    Bob

    • Hi Bob, I love anything by Thomas A. Kempis. Thanks for sharing. I also appreciate the suffering perspective. None of us “enjoy” that part of our journey, but it’s necessary. What you wrote about suffering moving us to our true Joy, it reminds me of the book Hinds’ Feet on High Places. I’ve pulled it out several times to reread. I think now is a good time.

      I’m so happy Agnes is still with us. Hugs to you both! ❤

  2. Kim, I really like the distinction you draw here. I too am married to a man who is very nice and kind, where I am the say it like it is partner. I have tried throughout a good chunk of my life to be “nice” but never quite managed it to the extent I wanted, always having an outburst of honesty at the “wrong” moments. Kindness though is a richer state to aspire to and is what we humans share for one another, (perhaps stemming from compassion?) when we are at our best. Thanks for the opportunity for some reflection here.

    • Thanks for your honesty about having outbursts at the wrong moments, Kristine. Sometimes I feel like the only one who can’t master being quiet at the right times. lol 😀 I love “Kindness though is a richer state … , ” yes, it is. And I do think it stems from compassion. I’m still thinking a lot about the contrast in the two words and what it means for my life. I appreciate your insights. ❤

  3. I have to check in on your posts more often. Your published thoughts often put into words vague feelings I’m wrestling with. The difference between kind and nice as presented here resonates as I consider a couple close relationships that have recently changed due to life events. This year I’ve had the fruits reminders posted in various places to help me focus on what my behaviors should be (doesn’t always work, of course.) The fruits I thought needed my bigger efforts aren’t necessarily the ones that do, though. I’ll be mulling this over for awhile…

    • Hi Natine, I like the idea of posting the fruits verse as a reminder. I need that too. It’s a favorite verse that I don’t remember unless it’s right in front of me. I’m sure God was all in that conversation John and I had because it’s had such an impact that neither one of us expected. Not a day’s gone by since then that I don’t think at least once about whether what I’m doing is nice … or is it kind? ❤

      Thanks for your comment. It made me think more about it also.

  4. From Facebook (Kim Henson) ~

    Betty Butler, Dawn Bugni and 25 others

    Delilah Lewis I really did not know that Kim Henson
    1

    Kim Henson I’ve never paid much attention to the difference until recently, Delilah Lewis. Disguinshing between the two has helped us around here. I much prefer kindness. ❤ I wonder if the Bible ever uses the word "nice." I doubt it.

    Joel Carter Tried to leave a comment on you blog cooment section, but couldn't, probably due to my website link. Let's see if I can rewrite it here. Thanks Kim for explaining the nuanced but real differences between being nice to avoid facing uncomfortable steps of resolution and being kind even if it takes more effort initially.
    3

    Kim Henson I like the way you put it, Joel Carter, "… being nice to avoid facing resolution and being kind even if it takes more effort initially." Kindness asks a lot more of us and gives a lot more. ❤ What a great word, the more I think about it.
    2

    Linda Hopkinson This is truly awesome and KIND… I love you Kim ❤
    1

    Kim Henson Awe, thanks, Linda Hopkinson! ❤ I love you lots!

    Barbara Barksdale You know, Kim Henson, I never really gave it much thought. Being "nice", being "kind" but I read your in-depth synopsis of both and it all makes sense to me ~~~ and, I definitely prefer kindness. Actually I've met a lot of nice people but my favorite ones are kind, like YOU girlfriend. 😎😍🤗
    2

    Kim Henson Barbara Barksdale, awe, I love you! Thanks. It's easy to be kind surrounded by kind people. ❤ I never gave the difference much thought either until John and I were frustrated and I yelled it out. It made so much sense the more I mulled over it. Now I frame a lot of what I do in the light of kindness. If it's not kind, I question why I'm even messing with it.
    1

    Barbara Barksdale Kim Henson good for you. 😃
    1

    Jan Glover Selwa I LOVE this, my kind friend!!! ❤️
    1

    Kim Henson Thanks so much, Jan Glover Selwa! ❤ I'm grateful to have a wonderful group of friends like you.
    1

    Kathi Gragen · 2 mutual friends
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    2

    Kim Henson This is so true, Kathi Gragen! ❤ Thanks for sharing.

    Mary Orth Moss OK. I'm going to have to check it out now because I've been having this same "conversation" running through my head for a couple of days now!
    2

    Kim Henson Let me know what you come up with, Mary Orth Moss. I'd love to hear more about it. ❤

    Lyn Snyder You are a KIND FRIEND🙏😘.
    2

    Kim Henson Thanks so much, Lyn Snyder! ❤ You know about being kind.

    DrJenine Marie Howry Ahhh! A new one for my T shirt collection!!
    1

    Kim Henson Wait, DrJenine Marie Howry, YOUR T shirt collection? What about me? I want in on your new business adventure. Matching tees and belts? 😉

    DrJenine Marie Howry ohhhh ah hem…I forgot, we have a partnership, lol
    1

    Susan Blanton Roche This really gives us all something to think about. I like how Joel Carter explained it too. What a wonderful world we would love in if we could all be kinder to each other! Thank you for sharing so much of yourself! Love you Kim Henson!
    2

    Kim Henson I ask myself about the difference at least once a day, Susan Blanton Roche. I'll start to react to something and I'll stop and ask myself which one I'm being, nice or kind. It's crazy I never focused much on it until now. Thanks for reading along. I appreciate you! Love you lots. ❤

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