At some point in your life, you have probably been told to “be nice” — or told someone
else the same. You may also have been taught to value the concept of kindness. We may not realize, though, that these two are not interchangeable – and can affect the people around us in very different ways.
What’s the difference between nice and kind? Generally, niceness involves doing something that is pleasing or agreeable. By contrast, kindness is doing something that is helpful to others, or that comes from a place of benevolence. Kindness is often expressed through actions that you take for other people, while niceness typically involves more superficial words or simple gestures. A nice person may tell a neighbor that they are sorry that they are sick — while a kind person may drop off some soup or offer to pick up groceries for them.
Consider a situation where a student is being bullied at school. A nice classmate might tell them, in private, that they don’t deserve this treatment and that they are sorry that it is happening. A kind person might stand up in the moment, telling the bullies to stop or getting a teacher involved.
Being nice is a result of social conditioning and expectations of how we should act. In many ways, these unofficial rules are a good thing, leading us to be polite and helping us avoid conflict. Yet too often, niceness is prioritized over true kindness — which can be damaging and destructive.
For example, if you are at a party and hear someone make a sexist joke that is degrading to women, your “nice” response might be to not say anything to avoid making anyone uncomfortable. You may choose to sit in silence, laugh nervously, or leave the room. The kind response may be to speak up about the joke. It may not feel “nice” to do so, but ultimately, it is far kinder — to both the joke teller and the others in the room with you — to call out this type of harmful conduct.
A person can be both kind and nice. In the example above, a kind person can nicely call out the joke by saying something straightforward like, “I don’t get it. Why is that funny?” Being kind doesn’t always mean being nice, however — because the truly kind response won’t always be pleasing to the other person. In many situations, being nice is not necessarily kind.
The distinction between nice and kind is important when it comes to the work of ending gender-based violence. Being “nice” may allow everyone to stay comfortable — but it won’t change the status quo.
True kindness isn’t always easy. It typically requires more than niceness, and can be uncomfortable. For example, if your close friend makes a homophobic comment, you might be tempted to just pretend that you didn’t hear it to be “nice.” Yet if you want to be kind to your friend, you will say something. They may not have realized that what they said was offensive, or may simply need to hear another perspective to understand that these kinds of comments are hurtful. It may be easier to be nice in this situation — but being kind is the far better option.
Focusing on kindness instead of niceness is one way that you can be an ally. It is also a good way to challenge many of the social norms that lead to gender-based violence, including domestic violence, sexual assault, and stalking.
As always, we are here if you need help. We offer a range of services to victims and survivors of violence, abuse and crime. Our hotline is available 24 hours a day at 1-888-832-2272. Calls to our hotline are free of charge, and can be anonymous.