When I was in high school my girlfriends and I used to classify people as "nice". It wasn't a term of endearment. To us, "nice" meant they weren't a bad person but they also didn't really bring much to the table. We didn't aspire to being nice. It was condescending and derogatory in our definition. I don't think we really understood what it meant to be kind.
Don't get me wrong, I was brought up with a strong, caring, and incredible group of women who continue to be the root of my strength today, and we've all come a very long way since high school. As teenagers we weren't inherently unkind, we were just led astray. We learned that kindness was a "feminine" trait and by proxy, a weakness. If we wanted to succeed, to truly leverage our intelligence, drive and ambition, we had to leave kindness behind.
It didn't make us unkind, it just made us undervalue the power of kindness. We saw strength in sarcasm, in judgement, in comparison and competition. At the time, it may have been said we were trying to play in a "man's world", but we've learned since that this, too, was misguided.
Maybe you are familiar with "Into the Woods"; the chorus of the Last Midnight captures our juvenile distinction of "nice":
Niceness is foolish in this definition, it's useless. It becomes the "wet blanket", the pushover. Nice is another word for "yes-man", and that's just unfair to the value of kindness.
I've only recently rediscovered the true power of kindness and of MY kindness. Throughout my life, I've been told that I'm kind and I've also been told I'm not that nice. It's confusing because ultimately it's a battle of semantics. You can argue the distinction between good, nice, kind, caring, compassionate but eventually you have to ask, why? Why do we need to so specifically qualify this somewhat indescribable quality of humanity? Perhaps because it is so powerful. If you've ever experienced true kindness (and I imagine and hope you all have), you know that it's transformative. Kindness grounds you. It reminds you of the wonder of being human, of the connection between us all, of the commonality we share before you begin to notice the many ways we classify each other and ourselves.
Kindness is a special type of power. In embracing my kindness, I've seen the unease and distrust that comes alongside. I've seen the definition I understood as a teenager active in my adult life amongst my peers. It goes deeper than misunderstanding the power of kindness, there is also a misunderstanding of power in general. In my day job, I often have to, for lack of better words, persuade people to do the things I need done. Sometimes, it comes into question if I can, in fact do this. If I can ask someone for what I need and receive it. Because I'm "so nice". This unsteadies me, but it also drives me to continue to be kind. To spread the knowledge that, no matter how "important", how "pushy", how "demanding" you may be, you hold the greatest power when you ask for something in kindness. Kindness is rooted in self-respect. When you practice kindness, it's unto yourself first so you may replicate it unto others. Kindness invites boundaries, honesty, passionate discourse, patience, empathy, authenticity and respect. Often, the kindest thing you can do for someone is to say "no", to disagree. Kindness is not politically correct. Kindness is real.
If you practice yoga perhaps you are familiar with doing what you need holistically instead of what you want mentally. A great example for me are the days the teacher says we can do chaturanga or just meet in downward dog, then mentions it's those of us that need the chaturanga most who don't do it. Then, dammit all, I do the chaturanga against my mind and my body is so grateful. That's kindness.
Kindness is giving what's needed. It's messy, and it's complicated, and it's hands down the most rewarding thing you can do as a human. Kindness is never a weakness. In moments where this feels challenged, remind yourself to be empathetic. Be kind to your challenger and gently, but firmly, teach them about true kindness.
Thank you for reading!