Cousins met at the park today, to run and reunite and soak in sun. They were a blur of a threesome, sometimes scattered around the playground, sometimes huddled close.
We aunts stood nearby, talking and watching.
A fourth tried to join them, but wasn’t welcomed. The three had their thing, their feel, their history, and were enjoying their group the way it was.
“This girl isn’t being nice to you; let’s go find another girl to play with,” the dad said to the fourth, loud enough for us all to hear.
I felt pricked, embarrassed, ashamed that my kid wasn’t being nice.
But wait. What does that mean, exactly, to be nice? Does it mean that our three have to play equally with everyone at the playground? Is this about being inclusive no matter what? Is it nice to play with someone that you really don’t want to play with? Is it nice to pretend to want to be with someone when you don’t really want to be with them?
(Is it nice to talk about my child this way knowing that she and her mother are overhearing you?)
I admit, I’m a bit of a language lover and semantics is my playground. And I don’t like the word nice; it’s not welcome to play much in my vocabulary. I don’t like the connotations of being a “nice girl.” In my experience, it means the quiet, subdued, submissive girl who doesn’t want to be a bother and doesn’t have a voice and will do anything to avoid hurting someone’s feelings and doesn’t get much respect and doesn’t really know who she is. Yep, it means all that.
And as it turns out, these connotations bear a striking resemblance to the word’s origins. The Latin nescire, meaning “not know,” birthed the Latin nescius, meaning “ignorant,” birthed the Middle English meaning “stupid.” Yep, it’s all there.
I like the word kind. I am all about kindness. To me, kindness is the beautiful juncture of truth and goodness. It doesn’t mean the appearance of goodness at the expense of truth; that’s flattery. It doesn’t mean truth at the expense of goodness; that’s brash.
Kindness means treating people like family, knowing and being known like family. The origins of the word kind (Old English cynd) are closely related to the word kin. The beautiful heart of the word kind means that what’s on the inside is known, but it comes out gently.
Nice forces a kid to relinquish his toy; kind teaches kids how to take turns over time.
Nice says what you want to hear; kind says what it means.
Nice always smoothes over awkwardness; kind endures discomfort when needed.
Kindness is more of a long-haul virtue. It can’t be coerced with consequences or a stern look. It comes from the inside, from the heart, and it takes time to foster and grow and learn. It can be hard to raise kids to be kind in a culture that pushes them to be nice.
But it’s the kindest thing I can do.
While I’ve been typing this, I’ve been interrupted a million times and am, ahem, struggling to be kind. I finally realized this and told Kasey the irony of working on an essay on kindness while I’m struggling to practice it. He smiled and gently said, “Well, maybe it’s good timing, then.”
That is kindness.