Let’s Teach Our Kids To Be Kind, Not Nice
So much of what I learned as a kid about interacting with others, both at home and in the Church, was centered around simply being nice. On the surface, there’s nothing wrong with being nice, of course. It’s just that being nice is superficial when compared to being kind. Since I became a parent, this distinction has become increasingly important to me.
When we’re nice to other people, we’re often trying to maintain a certain level of pleasantness. Sometimes this pleasantness is for the sake of those with whom we’re interacting, but usually it’s just for our own sake. I know this is how it works for me: I want other people to like me, so I’m nice to them. This way, they reflect back to me what I hope to see in myself. I’m nice to you, therefore, I’m a good person.
But surely being a good person goes deeper than that.
Yes, it’s important to be nice, just like it’s important to be respectful and polite. (Both of which, you could argue, are really just different ways of being nice.) But here’s the problem: when niceness is all we aspire to, we lose honesty, intimacy, and quite frankly, real relationship. We all crave genuine heart-to-heart, soul-to-soul connections with others — this is, after all, a big part of what it means to be human — but being nice often prevents us from having intimate connection.
Kindness, on the other hand, can lead us to real relationships with other people, because kindness requires that we step outside of ourselves. To be kind means to imagine the needs and desires of another person, and then respond accordingly. Kindness requires empathy.
This is what I hope to teach my children. My wife and I have an almost-two-year-old boy, and we have a little girl due to arrive this summer. We’ve talked a lot about which aspects of our faith we want to introduce to our kids when they’re young.
What I’m realizing is that the most essential thing is to show them from the very beginning what it means — and, more importantly, what it looks like — to love other people.
Each act of kindness is both an expression of love and an expression of justice. When our words and actions are truly kind, we extend generosity toward others. It’s a generosity of spirit — the kind of thing that feels quite uncommon, especially when so many people around us, including the President of the United States, model the complete opposite.
Therefore, as the Church, and especially as parents in the Church, we must model it. It’s time to move beyond niceness, which has become our own, terribly watered-down version of the gospel. Jesus commands us to “love one another,” a far more radical and difficult command than being nice to one another. Especially at a time when even that doesn’t seem to happen as often as it should.
Kindness is rooted in love for the other, which is exactly why I want to show my kids how and why to be kind. Being kind leads to a more just world, one in which we’re honest with ourselves and each other about the issues that matter most. One in which we’re looking out for one another.
I want my kids to know how to be fully present to others. I want my kids to know that being kind means having the courage to actually walk alongside someone else in their pain, rather than telling them they’re in their “thoughts and prayers.” I want my kids to understand that social justice begins with being kind in one-on-one interactions.
Because when we settle for being nice — when we offer only that pleasant smile or share our thoughts on today’s weather, instead of genuinely offering our time and attention — we lose opportunities to be Christ in the world. It’s not easy, and we have to be honest about this with our kids.
Kindness can be scary because whenever we step outside of ourselves to consider what others need, we risk becoming close to them and exposing who we really are. In this way, kindness requires a certain level of vulnerability. And we’re afraid of being hurt.
But in this world full of injustice and disconnection, we must take these risks daily and model kind interactions with others. The most important thing we can teach our kids is that kindness honors the belovedness — and the interconnectedness — of all people. If we can do this work hand-in-hand with our children, being nice might finally become a byproduct of being kind, instead of our endgame.