According to the Merriam-Webster Dictionary (2004), yes, I looked it up, the definition of NICE is as follows: Nice – pleasing, agreeable, respectable. One can look nice (pleasing), and one can conduct himself or herself in a nice manner (agreeable, respectable), one can even wish that another will “have a nice day!” but can one really BE nice? When I think of being nice, I think of the pleasantries we use to greet others – especially those we do not know… common courtesy. We aren’t being “fake,” we have learned how to coexist with our fellow earthlings with whom we bump elbows throughout the day – we act in a pleasant, agreeable, and respectable manner – we are being NICE!
So how is that different from being kind? Back to the dictionary: kind – of a sympathetic, patient, restrained, or pleasant nature; kindness – the quality of being friendly, generous, considerate. To me, kindness just goes deeper. It is more genuine. Kindness goes further than niceness – saying “good morning,” “please” and “thank-you” is nice… asking someone, “How are you?” and then actually stopping long enough to hear the answer while showing interest in that person is kind.
Michael J. Chase in his book am I being kind (2011) relates a story about a time in which he and his wife helped a turtle cross the road. They in no way benefited from helping the turtle; however, the turtle was delivered to his destination safely. They showed kindness to the turtle. They weren’t merely nice… saying hello as they drove on by… they took the time to demonstrate interest in the turtle’s life, intervene in his life, and show generosity of spirit as they helped him on his way. What did it cost them? only a few moments of their time. During that event Michael Chase had his kindness epiphany: “kindness creates happiness.”
Chase extends his philosophy of kindness into the 9 Elements of a Kind Heart. In this blog I will discuss only three of them.
Attentiveness – an attentive heart recognizes the needs of others (Chase 2011, p. 198). Pay attention! Too often we all are oblivious to the needs of those around us – whether by design or not – and we need to get our heads out of our phones and be aware of the needs around us. I my last blog I mentioned ways that I was able to make the day a bit brighter for those around me, but often I am as lost in my own thoughts as others who are lost in their phones. If we are to create “random acts of kindness” we must first perceive a need in another.
Now… why is it easier to show kindness to a random stranger than it is to show that same kindness to a close friend or family member? Don’t deny it – you know it’s true… and, of course, I have a few thoughts about that. With strangers we have no scorecard. If you have a spouse or siblings, you know you keep a scorecard – how many kind things I do for you… how many kind things you do for me… who’s turn is it? If you ask a friend for a favor, what do you say? “I’ll owe you one.” That implies that we keep track. Wouldn’t life be easier, kinder, and even nicer if we just threw away the scorecard and were as kind to those close to us as we can be to strangers? Hmmm… I’ll try to work on that and let you know how it goes…
Authenticity – An authentic heart is genuine and acts from truth (Chase 2011, p. 199). Several years ago during an English lesson that included the word facade, my students taught me a new word. As I explained that a façade is a false front – could be in architecture or on a person – but it is not real… a young lady in the class said, “OH! You mean frontin’!” The confused look on my face encouraged her to explain: “That’s when somebody is puttin’ on a front.. you know pretendin’ they like you but they don’t.” Exactly. Nobody likes a phony… and students, like dogs, can spot one a mile away.
There was a Disney movie that was taboo for our household when my children were small… and that was Bambi. My husband was, and still is, an avid whitetail deer hunter, and he didn’t appreciate how hunters are portrayed in the film… however, there is one message from Thumper that my kids heard loud and clear: “If you can’t say something nice, don’t say anything at all” although I think we should add “if you can’t say something nice AND MEAN IT, don’t say anything at all.” Be genuine, authentic, kind, and HONEST. You know if your words are empty platitudes or genuinely kind… and so will the recipient.
Enthusiasm – “The enthusiastic heart displays limitless energy and passion. For an act of kindness to be effective (and believable), we need to have enthusiasm” (Chase 2011, p. 204). When you demonstrate enthusiasm for a conversation, an act, an activity, you show that you are happy to be participating… if you act tired or lethargic with the attitude, “well, I’m doing it… what more do you want?” you are not demonstrating kindness, and it is my guess that the recipient would prefer if you would just go away. This is a concept that is difficult to teach teenagers. The attitude displayed is just as important as the act itself.
Is enthusiasm an issue for you? Fake it! No, it’s not the same thing as frontin’. This time it’s ok. You have the desire to be kind, you truly want to be helpful, but you just aren’t feeling enthusiastic at the moment… ACT! Use those skills from drama class. No, you are not being fake… you are getting yourself out of your own funk and encouraging the enthusiasm to grow… and it will.
Be attentive. Be authentic. Be enthusiastic… Be kind! 🙂
Until next time…