I've been too nice lately. Its a trap that opens when insecurities flare up. Its not the trap everyone falls into. Some people fall into the other end of the spectrum, covering up insecurities with bravado and a bark. There are as many traps as there are people in the world. For me... nice is the problem.
I cringe when I am referred to as "nice." People mean well (they are probably being nice), but when it happens, I take it as a wake up call. An opportunity to examine the holes I've been trying to fill with approval from other people. This weekend has been all about assessing my current state of self-confidence/esteem thanks to hearing the concern of a co-worker who sees me as "too nice." She's right. I've been too nice.
Here's something I've landed on as a (little t) truth for me: being nice can be innocent and well-intended while simultaneously being manipulative as it seeks reassurance of belonging. It seeks approval, of being enough, and of having one's place in a group or relationship constantly affirmed. Nice has strings attached to it. And while its almost impossible to identify the cage nice brings to a relationship, everyone involved can feel it.
I've caged my co-workers over the last few months with my niceness. Of course, I didn't mean to. I want people to feel free with me. And though its uncomfortable to admit, I'm grateful to realize I've fallen in the nice trap because now, I can pull myself out and move back into kindness.
The difference between nice and kind is only subtle on the surface. Many people use kind as a synonym for nice, but the two words are different.
Nice seeks approval. Kind seeks connection.
Nice is the nylon flower that never dies and cannot give off fragrance or communicate the poetry of essential nature. It stems from a fear of losing connection, place or reputation. Nice is afraid to be authentic and obsesses over what other people think. It gives everything away, leaving the giver in emotional, spiritual, intellectual, and sometimes, financial debt. And it rarely, if ever, does nice lead to meaningful connection with others.
Kind is essential nature. It is an abundance of self-love that is able to give without losing energy or requiring something in return. Kind does not need credit and offers the giver deep satisfaction when done anonymously. Kind is a garden full of fragrant flowers able to return each season with little prompting. It is the result of filling oneself up every day before giving life-sustaining resources away.
Kind is both an adjective and a noun. It means having a gentle nature, bringing happiness and helping others (and, I would add, without self sacrifice). It also describes a group of people that belong to each other, like humankind. [Webster's Dictionary]
Kind and nice feel different. One is fulfilling while the other leads to insatiable hunger. In the case of my sixteen-year-old dog, Luna, I can feel the difference of my being nice or kind. When I give up the "shoulds" and expectations, I can be present with her. I can attend to her needs without feeling drained and I feel connected to her in those moments even if I happen to be cleaning poop off her paws (or mine) at 2:00 AM. But, when I hang on to the story of caring for an ailing dog with incontinence as a drag, a burden or frustrating... I step into nice because I still have to do what needs to get done without causing her distress. I end up exhausted and disconnected from her.
Nice happens. Often unconsciously. Its not horrible but its certainly not nourishing or connecting. Recognizing that I've been too nice lately stings a little. My ego blushes for being caught playing small. Its embarrassing, quite honestly. Not because being nice is wrong or bad, but because I've been more afraid than authentic and that leaves a hole in the world where I am supposed to be.