I live in a town that most people would describe as nice. The neighborhoods, schools, houses, and people all give off a purposeful and distinct impression of being nice. It is the reason we moved our family to this town. Who wouldn’t want to raise their children in such an environment? But as much as I have appreciated all the niceness that this town has to offer, I have reached the conclusion that nice is just not enough.
As confusing as that may seem to some people, let me explain. After much observation and thought, I have learned that niceness is not always rooted in truth and compassion. Niceness is just a way of conducting one’s self to conform to society’s standards of appropriate behavior. It is not necessarily about genuine care and concern for others. Rather, niceness often comes from the ego or a place of selfish need…a need to prove to one’s self and others that she or he is a good and decent person. It is more a need to look the part.
Kindness on the other hand is rooted in compassion and truth. Kindness is not concerned with meeting society’s standards. A kind-hearted person does not take action simply to look like a kind person. They have genuine concern for the well-being of another. They will act or speak up because they believe it is the right thing to do regardless of what society thinks. Kindness comes from the heart.
I am reminded of a quote that says, “Niceness stays quiet. Kindness speaks up. Niceness lies to keep the peace. Kindness knows the only way to make peace is to tell the truth. Niceness holds back. Kindness moves forward with humility, gentleness, and grace.”
In my town, I often see niceness being enacted over kindness. In November of last year, I wrote an article for theParentVoice, about the racism that some children of color were experiencing in a few of the schools in my town. After addressing the issue at a back-to-school event and meeting with the principal to come up with solutions, I received nice words of encouragement from the principal, teachers, and parents. Nice words like, “I am so glad that you spoke up” and “We always teach our kids to be nice to everyone”. Some of these words even came from the parents of children who had actively participated in the bullying. Over and over again, I heard nice words. But, those words turn out to be hollow and meaningless because they followed no substantive act that promised to help change the hostile environment to which some children had been exposed.
I even later heard from one of the moms of a bullied child that the exclusion of her son had only gotten worse. Children refused to either sit with him at lunch or play with him on the playground. The teacher’s response was to tell him to just go sit in a corner and quietly read a book. The school acted like the bullying did not exist anymore and continued with their portrayal of everything being nice. They stayed quiet about the continued bullying in order to keep the peace.
It became so obvious to the parents of the bullied children that the school and the town had no real interest in seriously addressing the issues at hand, that most of the African American and Black students, including my own children, had been withdrawn from the school by the end of the year.
I was growing more and more agitated with the complacency of the school and the town in general. I was losing hope of anyone understanding that nice is not the solution. Then one day, I wandered into my local Starbucks to get some writing done and I noticed a mom of one of the students in my daughter’s class setting up tables with art supplies and balloons in the courtyard of the café. As she walked past me, we greeted each other and I asked why she was setting up the area. She explained that she was an employee of Starbucks and they were holding an event that encourages children to be kind. Parents and their kids were invited to stop by and paint a rock with images or words of love that encouraged and sparked people to show genuine kindness to each other.
As she spoke, I felt a huge smile spread across my face. At long last, someone seemed to understand that nice is not enough. Nice is meaningless if it does not follow kindness that is built on honesty and compassion. While it is true that painting rocks won’t be enough to stop bullying. I believe that engaging in conversation about the difference between niceness and kindness is a step forward in teaching children and adults what it means to truly care for another soul.
I walked into that café hoping to find some sort of inspiration to spark my writing and not only did I find the topic for my next article, I found hope in a town that had almost rendered me hopeless. I saw familiar faces and new faces. I watched parents happily heading to the tables encouraging their children to create messages of love about what it means to be kind. Again, I do not believe that things will suddenly change here, but as stated by Lao Tzu, “the journey of a thousand miles begins with one step.”
The mom who set up the event took that first step. I now hoped to see others join her in the journey. That hope was met once again when I ventured into another Starbucks a few weeks later with my family while on an outing to the beach. As we waited for our order, I looked at one of the walls and noticed that it was covered in artwork created by children.
Each piece depicted a message about kindness. Apparently, Starbucks had taken it upon themselves to spread the message. The journey was more than one step into its mission. It was actually a few miles into it.
Does this town and our world have a long way to go? We absolutely do! The words and artwork of the children that I photographed in those cafes are the only things that give me hope that the journey towards kindness, compassion, and love need to continue and is still continuing, one small step after another.