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  • Writer's picturelarahammock

The Difference Between "Sweet", "Nice", and "Kind"

Photo courtesy of Caroline Hernandez on Unsplash

Here are three words that are often used interchangeably: sweet, nice, and kind. But I think there are important distinctions between them that can help to decide how we want to be in the world. In my family — based on the distinctions I will discuss in a bit — my husband is sweet, nice, and kind; my daughter is sweet and kind, I’m only kind, and my son used to be none of the above, but is growing into himself as an adult who is both sweet and kind.

So, let’s go through them:

  • Sweet — I think of sweet as more of a temperament. It describes someone who is pleasant and easy to be around. Generally this temperament is not dominant or pushy, but is gentle and lovable. This disposition is shared by most of the early Disney princesses — Snow White, Cinderella, Sleeping Beauty. Okay — here’s where things start to get interesting.

  • Nice — A nice person is agreeable and easy going. They are someone who thinks of others and is unfailingly polite and well-mannered. Many women are socialized to be “nice.” In our society, “nice” goes well beyond “don’t be mean or aggressive” to “don’t make waves or ask for things that are inconvenient for others.” This quality is why it’s difficult to be rude to someone who is making you uncomfortable on the subway — it wouldn’t be nice. Which brings us to

  • Kind — I think of kindness as less about manners and more about goodness. In other words, it may not be nice to break up with someone that you don’t respect anymore — but it is certainly kind. After all, it’s not fair to continue to be with someone you don’t respect. It is not always nice to have a direct conversation with an employee about improving their performance, but it is more kind than avoiding that conversation and then laying off that employee without ever letting them know what they could have changed. Now, you can certainly be both nice and kind at times, but kindness requires that you are occasionally not nice.

Particularly for those in our society who have been conditioned to be nice, sweet, and kind, it’s important to know the difference. After all, being nice, going along to get along, not rocking the boat — is ultimately going to mean that you are placing the preferences of others over your own. Which again, might not be that big of a deal, unless you are doing it over and over and over again. In which case, you are likely to be a) not doing what you want much of the time and b) building up some resentment. And unexpressed resentment is just not good for relationships. Wouldn’t it be kinder to draw some boundaries and have a sense of what your limits are?

So, I encourage all of us to examine our tendencies and choose what qualities we want to embody. And furthermore, we should NOT be okay with letting our culture dictate those to us. Believe me, I appreciate the role of niceness — particularly among strangers, but in my closest relationships — I prefer kindness over niceness any day of the week.

Let me know what you think! Comments are always appreciated.

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