A few years ago, I quit my social work job assisting impoverished teenage parents to pour craft beers for upper-middle class patrons.
It’s implausible, but also true, that I learned more about human behavior and my own inner spirit at the bar than I had in any psychology class or humanitarian expedition.
I saw the way a friendly local bar can replace family or exercise for those who don’t have an interest in either.
I learned that Tinder dates are awkward for all parties involved, and almost everyone sounds grungy when they’re swiping.
I witnessed adorable partnerships and also adultery as I watched beer bring people together and alcoholism tear some apart.
I learned to speak a universal language of pizza orders and small talk, and one night, thanks to a co-worker, I learned a lasting lesson that changed one of my foundational views on life.
“What do you think of the new guy?” my co-worker asked, as we shut down the bar for the night.
“I really like him,” I responded.
“You really like him? Why?”
“I don’t know; he’s nice.” I hadn’t given much thought to our new team member in his first week on the job, but this answer seemed solid enough.
“Nice? I thought you were smarter than that. Haven’t you learned yet? Nice is bullshit.”
Being an industry veteran, his rebuttal seemed typical of his know-it-all behavior, so I countered back with the beliefs I held to be true: Nice is everything. Nice is synonymous with good. Isn’t nice what we’re all aiming for?
As my co-worker explained his rationale, I let his words plant a seed that would change me. Since then, here’s what I’ve come to know:
Nice is bullsh*t because there’s a stark difference between being nice and being kind.
Kindness isn’t a trait that can be turned on and off. Kindness governs one’s principles, resides in the heart, and lives there full time. It comes from a place of honesty, with genuine intention. It’s sincere.
Kindness trumps ego, makes room for apologies, understands the flaws of humanity, and offers grace amidst struggle.
Kindness supports self-care and boundaries; it creates lasting friendships, and forgives wholeheartedly. Kind people still make mistakes, but they reflect on their actions, aim to be better, and exude love for the living.
Nice encompasses less warm and fuzzy adjectives because anyone can be nice.
Niceties only have to last for a moment. One can be nice on the outside with a heart that’s rotting on the inside, displaying both timely manners and terrifying tendencies.
It’s impossible to discern if niceness is genuine. Nice people issue a compliment but feel entitled to degrade the same person as they leave the room. Nice is a mask worn for an interview, a decorative suitcase disguising toxic baggage the holder refuses to own. Nice people have charmed their way out of crimes or into other people’s marriages. Nice is base level behavior for frenemies, racists, and sociopaths.
Nice isn’t very nice after all.
Until that evening, I didn’t understand the difference. In my struggle to understand the world and my place in it, I lived out the misguided ideals of an older generation. I put on a surface appearance of nice, and hardened my heart in a way that was unkind.
I thought this made me a decent human, but it didn’t.
The world is so full of hate and unapologetic nonsense, the last thing we need is another generation growing up on nice intentions.
Nice is bullsh*t. We have to be kind to others to be kind to ourselves; that’s how we grow, how we help, and how we heal.
I’m eternally grateful for my co-worker’s nugget of wisdom and the impact it made on my view of the world. Learning the difference between nice and kind helped me evolve into a human being I’m proud of. I let go of lame friendships and irrelevant suitors. I began to feel sound in my choices, radiating a brighter energy, and attracting like-minded people whose company I actually enjoy.
One of life’s great fallacies is that we should surround ourselves with nice people. Instead, seek kindness and aim to embody it.
Kindness is the birthplace of beauty, growth, and change. Kindness is a permanent notion that radiates from the heart and permeates barriers we may otherwise be too nervous to break.
In 2017, nice is a notion we no longer have time for.
It’s through kindness that we live out our purpose, nourish our souls, and stand a chance at our dreams.
Author: Meghan Saul
Image: Author’s own; Robert Couse-Baker/Flickr
Editor: Nicole Cameron
Copy Editor: Travis May
Social Editor: Catherine Monkman