Being “nice” is not the same as being “kind.”

Where I live, we have what we call “Minnesota Nice.” People from other states have recognized this quality about us here in Minnesota, too. We don’t like to rock the boat. Generally, we will accommodate you and your opinions, whatever we really think about you or your opinions. We won’t be bothered too much by you or risk criticizing you, at least not to your face, because that would be rude. Generally, we will say either, “Not too bad,” “Ok, you bet,” “That’s different,” or even, “Whatever,” in response to the people and things going on around us.

We really don’t think it’s nice to say what we think—or to disagree, right-up front—so, anything that resembles disagreement is called “arguing” and any tone raised above the normal “inside” voice is called “yelling.” All this passive/agressiveness still seems pretty normal to most of us here, although, the world it-is-a-changing and the pervasiveness of Lutheranism and Scandinavianism is decreasing, so, this trait of ours may change. Just to say, I know what I mean when I say that we like to be nice here—it’s nice— and we like it when you are nice, too.

Etymologically speaking, the word origin for “Nice” in Webster’s¹ says,

Middle English: foolish, wanton, from Anglo-French: silly, simple, from Latin: nescius ignorant, from nescire not to know

“Nice” doesn’t require you to know what is going on or to care about anything or to actually make a difference in the status quo. “Nice” is when you don’t have to actually do anything and you probably had better not, because actually doing something about anything probably would involve actions that might not be so “nice.”

However, I think it is important to distinguish the word, “Nice,” from the word, “Kind.” According to Merriam-Webster, “nice” has more to do with a superficial politeness and pleasantness of appearance, and accommodation to societal or cultural norms, which is very different than what the word “kind” means. Again, according to the same source, “kind” means, “having or showing a gentle nature and a desire to help others : wanting and liking to do good things and to bring happiness to others.”² To be “kind” is to be focused on other people and helping, which is completely different from being “nice.” You can be happy with yourself as long as you make an appearance of politeness and external accommodation in order to be “nice,” so that there doesn’t have to be any real help or goodness expressed toward other people, when you are “nice.”  When you are “kind,” however, there has to be substance behind it; real help that meets needs or at least focuses on real needs that other people have, not on your needs.

Platitudes are “nice.” Wise encouragement shared patiently is “kind.” See the difference?

¹”Nice.” Merriam-Webster, n.d. Web. 19 Nov. 2016.

²”Kind.” Merriam-Webster, n.d. Web. 19 Nov. 2016.


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