Nice vs. Kind (Or Backing Away from the Bitch from Hell).

Via on Oct 25, 2011

Back in high school, somebody called me a bitch from hell. (Probably because I was.)

When the comment got back to me, I was embarrassed. “Bitch from hell” was not what I was going for. I resolved to be nicer. Later, in my twenties, I was a new yoga teacher, lacking in confidence and longing to be liked. I pumped out nice by the gallon. My classes grew.

After a couple of years, I decided all this niceness was utterly insupportable. The inauthentic nature of my niceness was wearing on me. I was sick of it! I decided I had been babying my students. I turned off being nice and I turned on…something else. If I had a bad day, I’d show it. If one of my students seemed disturbed by the way I spoke to her, that was her problem—she needed to face her shit! During this era of my teaching, I often received feedback that included the words “drill sergeant” and “Nazi”. My classes were PACKED.

Here’s the problem: I didn’t go into teaching to arrogantly boss people around (although that has been a fabulous perk. Kidding!) And I didn’t go into teaching yoga to be liked. (Oh, all right. Maybe I did, a little, at the beginning. Okay, A LOT, at the beginning. Cut me a break, I was 23.) Way down, underneath overtly manipulative bossiness and the covertly manipulative niceness, was a desire to make a difference for people. At this point I’d met John Friend and I had a name for what I wanted to do. I wanted to serve.

And the nasty approach was not serving. I’ll relate just one incident here. I snapped at a student for asking me to turn on the air conditioning. (“OKAY, you don’t have to CRY about it!”) I thought she was whiny. She got up and left. After class I called her to apologize. She told me she appreciated my apology, but that she could never take my class again. I thought about it, and you know what? I wouldn’t take my class again either. Who wants to be snapped at by their yoga teacher? Enough friction exists outside the yoga studio. Enough friction arises within you on the mat. And enough friction exists between you and your yoga teacher (thought bubble: “how much longer are we gonna hold this? Enough about shri—I want savasana!”) without the teacher being needlessly rude to you.

Newsflash: indifference, disrespect, and sarcasm are not empowering. Sadly, people who are used to indifference, disrespect, and sarcasm feel right at home with this approach, regardless of whether or not it actually works for them. Are there teachers out there who are interpersonally skilled enough to use negative energy with JUST the right person at JUST the right moment in JUST the right way to create an awakening in the student? Maybe. But you know what? I’m not that teacher. I’m not doing anybody any favors by being rude. I’m not teaching someone a special life lesson about how “the real guru is within you”. I’m not “being a mirror” and reflecting their essence back to them. I’m being self-indulgent and ineffective.

“Manners are an economy,” writes Henry James, and if our primary intention is to serve, superfluous nastiness is not economical. Nor is being ingratiating out of a need to be liked. It’s far more effective to be KIND. Kindness is going slow enough and being clear enough that people can truly understand. Kindness is making a genuine effort to see the good intentions behind unskillful words or actions. Kindness is patient. It takes the high road. It makes the inevitable friction of life and yoga a little more bearable. When I’m kind, treating my students respectfully and revealing deeper truths to them are the same thing.

Does this mean that I never snap at my students? No. I am human and I snap. It DOES mean that I no longer justify snapping at my students. Does this mean that when I DO snap at my students, that I feel really guilty about it? No. Guilt sucks. I just clean it up by apologizing if necessary. Does this mean I’m inauthentic? No. When I’m having a horrible day, I acknowledge it to myself and to my loved ones. But when I step into the classroom, I try my best to set aside my day and embody the wider vision of my role as the yoga teacher.

I am sure there are tons of yoga teachers out there who do not struggle with these issues, who understand from the get-go that the whole point is kindness. I am not that wise. The bitch from hell inside me says, “Ten years of teaching and ‘be kind’ is one of your greatest insights? How lame are you?” I’d like to tell her to STFU, but she needs kindness too. And that’s the great lesson. When I finally realized that the way to treat my students was kindness, I realized that was how I had to treat myself too. Not bullying. Not babying. Kindness.

About Emma Magenta

Emma Magenta is a yoga teacher and writer living in New Jersey. She grew up on a sheep farm in Kansas and attended Bryn Mawr College. She owns and operates South Mountain Yoga studio in South Orange, NJ with her husband. You can find out more about her on her website, emmamagentayoga.com.

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18 Responses to “Nice vs. Kind (Or Backing Away from the Bitch from Hell).”

  1. Beth says:

    I first met you when you were a drill sergeant. I am happy you've found your kindness. Enjoy!

  2. Amanda says:

    Emmmaa: I was a bitch from hell in high school too but I'd like to think I've transformed radically. I could NEVER snap at my students though! Having said that, I know the bitch lurks beneath and she's always ready to fight if need be. Yoga or not, I like to think I'm just naturally feisty. Lol Thank you for being so open in this post.

  3. BJ Galvan Bj Galvan says:

    I LOVE your witty sarcasm! This is so great… kill them with kindness. xo <3

  4. Bernadette Birney bernieb says:

    This is so brilliant and so relevant. Thanks for spelling it out with grace and humor. This will definitely be making its way to my teacher trainees in the form of a handout.

  5. This is so true! I feel like being nice is about making sure others like/approve of you, while being kind is truly about the other person. And sometimes the kindest thing isn't nice;) Love it!

  6. Kathleen Gage says:

    Congratulations, Emma. You learned in your short life what it took me 50 years to learn. I loved all phases of my personality past and present and there's nothing wrong with acknowledging who you are at any time. Think about those people who never change.

  7. catnipkiss says:

    these are great revelations! I have had all kinds of teachers, and although I like to be pushed a bit in yoga, I prefer to do it to myself. Kind corrections to posture are always appreciated. But no drill sergeant, please! It's a fine line, because I DO tend to baby myself (hell, no one ELSE is doing it!) and maybe sometimes I need a wakeup call in class when I am taking it easy, but I hate being yelled at. Keep it up with your kind approach, if I get to NJ, I'll take your class ;) Alexa Maxwell

  8. Tanya Lee Markul Tanya Lee Markul says:

    Love this!

    Just posted to "Popular Lately" on the Elephant Yoga homepage.

  9. Tanya Lee Markul Tanya Lee Markul says:

    Posting to Elephant Yoga on Facebook and Twitter.

    Tanya Lee Markul, Yoga Editor
    Join us! Like Elephant Yoga on Facebook
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  10. Marjorie says:

    I seem to have reached a similar conclusion as @ Kate whose comment is above.
    Being nice is about what the other person thinks about you, their opinion of you. Being kind is when we genuinely care about the other person's well being. So when is it all about me, I am being nice, but when I truly care about someone else and their well being, it is Kindness Thank you so much Emma!

  11. Emma Magenta Emma says:

    Thanks to all for your KIND and insightful comments!

  12. Emily Perry Emily Perry says:

    here here to the power of yoga! be authentically ourselves is the ticket! thanks for the great read~ and for revealing so much about your journey! xo

  13. Eli Hunter says:

    I just read this article about being nice vs. being kind: http://www.cobizmag.com/articles/sucessful-execs-

  14. Suzette says:

    I am happy for you that you finally figured it out. I certainly would have walked out of your class. Also unfortunate are the students who obviously felt comfortable with the familiar feeling of aggression by one supposedly in authority and laid there on their mats supporting inappropriate behaviour. This sounds like attention getting. First a people pleaser for attention and then resenting the back bending. At least you engaged in a practice for awareness. Nobody said nice was to be a doormat or that assertion meant to be a bullying bitch and seriously if you can't be kind to yourself you can't be kind to anybody else, it would just be a performance. At least it seems from this article that you recognized something in yourself…funny how a yoga practice gives you more than just abs.

    Good luck on your path to further awareness.

    'In the end only kindness matters,' by Jewel (line from a song)

  15. [...] person kicking and screaming at the bad guys, but there she was, burning through my skin. I suppose the bitch has been silently germinating inside ever since I was just a [...]

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