Something I’ve been thinking a lot about recently is the difference between kindness, niceness and politeness. Without giving it too much thought, you may think that the three things are pretty much the same – and it is true that they are three very similar things (some people probably even do use them interchangeably) but I think that when you really ‘unpack’ the terms, you find that they’re very different indeed.
Let’s first look at politeness. I think that this is a basic quality which all decent humans should possess. If somebody is polite, there’s no need to compliment them, because I don’t think it’s remarkable. These are your general pleases and thank yous. Essentially, I think of politeness as simply not being a jerk. I am polite towards people I dislike, because I feel like all people deserve that. If someone cannot be polite, I do not think that they are worth emotionally investing in.
Niceness is the next step up. Niceness is kind of like a politeness cupcake with a cherry on top – it’s only a little better than the bare minimum. I feel like this encompasses things like semi-friendly small talk – it’s not necessary, but it can be a nice bonus for people. Niceness can also encompass some unhealthy behaviours. Sometimes people do things they don’t really want to do for others, just because they feel like they have to be ‘nice’ and then end up resenting them for it – even though the other person doesn’t realise. Niceness, then, can be a form of people pleasing – doing ‘good’ things simply because someone is incapable (due to anxiety, insecurity or something else) of not doing them. It can be a sign of a very good and decent person, but I also think that there’s not enough depth to know if you can really trust it.
Now we come to kindness. Oh, boy – this is a good one. This is the word I like to use most of all when describing positive traits that people have. Kindness describes positive actions people take, born out of the desire to make that person happy. It’s an altruistic virtue and a quality I see within the people I care about the most. Contrast it to politeness, which is a societal requirement and niceness, which is a positive action which is so vague that you can’t identify the intentions behind it.
So don’t worry too much about being ‘nice’ and doing what you feel you have to – just make sure that you are always polite and that you do things out of kindness whenever you can. It’s also good, when determining whether or not you can trust someone, to figure out if they are being polite, nice or kind to you – if it’s kindness you know for a fact that they are a keeper.