The Next Loving Thing
My friend Bryan put into words a concept I wrestled with for years, which is the difference between being nice and kind. For many years I used the two interchangeably. However, that would often lead me to make choices in the moment that I thought would be helpful. Instead, it usually made life more difficult and stressful for all parties involved.
So what's the difference?
Being nice can appear on the surface to be the more positive experience, at least at the moment. Arguments and conflict are avoided by not bringing up touchy subjects. Critical issues may be glossed over or not dealt with at all. In the short-term, this may keep the peace. However, it can plant the seeds of resentment as people have unmet needs that need to be discussed and resolved, regardless of how unpleasant that process may be.
Being kind can appear on the surface to be a broader range of experiences. It can still be positive in situations where you show up in a state of vulnerability and tell people how much you appreciate or love them. Whereas nice people may give false compliments, kind people provide them with full sincerity because it's true, it needs to be said, and it needs to be heard.
On the flip side, being kind may feel incredibly negative and painful in the moment. This is where I love the phrase used in various 12-step programs regarding "the next loving thing." A dear friend or loved one may be acting out or destructive, and the next loving thing for their long term health and wellbeing might not be a compliment. It might be as extreme as an intervention where friends gather around to highlight a raw truth that can't be ignored any longer.
This is why kindness can be so confusing because in the moment it may appear to be anything but nice. And in our society, many groups and subcultures have been conditioned to value niceness over kindness. However, I would argue that this is a trap and that to truly grow and evolve, we need friendships and relationships where we can respectfully call each other out when things have gotten out of hand.
This doesn't mean we have to go around and be a dick to everyone to try and "wake them up" and dole out "truth bombs" all day long. However, it does require us to embrace the discomfort that goes along with being the "bad guy" once in a while instead of receiving all the praise that comes with going through life as the "nice guy" or gal.
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About Rick Manelius
Quick Stats: CXO of Atomic Form. Graduated from MIT in '03 (BS) and '09 (PhD). Life hacker and peak performance enthusiast. This blog is my experiment in creative writing, self-expression, and sharing what I've learned along my journey. For more information, read my full bio here or contact me.