One of the many unintended side effects of becoming a parent is that you’re forced to develop a completely new relationship with the English language. I don’t mean that you’ll instantly gain an understanding of homophones, homonyms, and homographs – no such luck. What I mean is that you’ll learn that “sit on the couch” can mean a multitude of different things – ranging from the traditional “butt-on-seat” variation, to many other more creative arrangements that could end with a butt placed in a number of surprising locations.
For example, I remember a time when I told my son to go in his room and put on a pull-up before bed, and he did exactly that. It wasn’t until the next morning that I learned that what I should’ve said was “take off your underwear, and THEN put on a pull-up.”
When I was preparing Noah for kindergarten, I spent a lot of time talking to him about the importance of being “kind”, and of course that required an explanation of exactly what I meant. My initial explanation was probably something along the lines of “you know, like, nice or whatever…” but when you really think about it, being nice and being kind really aren’t the same thing at all, are they?
According to my old friend Merriam-Webster, to be nice is to be pleasant or agreeable. To me, this describes a behavior or a particular style of social interaction. Nice is something that can be turned on when you clock in at work and turned off the moment your shift ends. Nice is great for job interviews and first dates. Nice is common, but not necessarily always genuine. Politicians are (almost) always nice because being nice gets you votes.
Don’t get me wrong, I want my son to be nice, but not nearly as much as I want him to understand how important it is to be kind.
Old lady Merriam’s definitions of kind include words like “helpful,” “gentle,” and “loving”—all words that fall right in line with the lesson that I wanted to teach my son. “Nice” is a way to behave, whereas “kind” refers to the kind of person that you are. Kind people aren’t kind because it could possibly yield rewards, or because it’s part of a job description. Kindness is a result of a genuine desire to help other people and do good. When my grandmother forces “soda money” into my pocket before I leave her home, she’s doing it out of kindness.
Nice and kind are two words that are similar in definition, but far from interchangeable. Nice people aren’t hard to find—go to any Starbucks or Chic-Fil-A and you’ll find dozens of them prepared to provide you with the best dining experience possible. Truly kind people, on the other hand, are a little harder to find. These are the people who go out of their way to help others and do good, no matter the reward.
I think the best thing of all of us is to try to be at least a little bit of both. What about you?
This post reflects the views and experiences of the author, and is intended to start a conversation. Please share your thoughts in the comments below!
Or, if you’d like to hear some overall thoughts on virtues from Christians at THRED, you can find those over here.