having been asked “what’s the difference?”:
for me, niceness is a question of manner—and it’s a consolation. niceness is not threatening. niceness is, at its best, making the world easier for those around you. not “better” so much as less work. i do not mean it is a concept intrinsically without virtue (don’t go out of your way to make other people’s lives worse), but it is abstract and it is passive. it assumes something about your character and lets you off the hook. you don’t enact niceness; you just…are.
kindness is active; kindness comes from acts, describes those acts, you are described as a kind person when you are known for performing acts of kindness. and you can perform acts of kindness (things that make other people’s lives better) without categorizing yourself as a nice person, without softening your manner on a categorical level. you can generally come off mean or brash or cold or aggressive or whatever and still be capable of kindness. can still perform acts of kindness. everyone can. it is the human condition that we are all capable of anything: goodness is a choice, as much as anything. kindness is about making that choice.
i have a hard time with Niceness. i think it’s a prescriptive expectation, especially for girls—reminding them to be soft and unthreatening and to put themselves aside and want as little as possible; i think it does a fuck of a job on fiction, especially y.a., wherein heroines who are Nice Girls in fiction tend to be unthreatening vacuums who are rewarded for learned passivity and often juxtaposed with Not-Nice Girls who embody all the threats absent in Niceness. it’s also the vocabulary of an increasingly frustrating trend where if you don’t actively fuck up other people’s lives you deserve a reward: talking, of course, about Nice Guys™.
but that doesn’t mean that i don’t think people should work to be good to each other. it doesn’t mean we shouldn’t work to make our loved ones happy and not to be a dick to strangers. everyone should do that, no matter who they are, no matter how they come off. everyone is capable of that. niceness is a judgment of your character in general; kindness is about the things you’ve done.
WITH THE “DON’T BE A DICK” CAVEATthere’s a gulf between not being nice and being mean that i think people who judge niceness as a concept miss:
that in response to a previously designated moral high ground to niceness there is a growing position that it is okay to be actively mean, which is inaccurate, self-aggrandizing, and often cruel.
and that’s the reason i think kindness is important as an idea. generosity, too. all the agency-based human-decency adjectives—that’s what can reframe the argument and let you fight the toxic bits of niceness without going to “what’s the opposite of nice? MEAN. IF NICE IS BAD THEN MEAN IS GOOD.” (mean’s abstract and essentialist, too. as well as consisting of dick moves.)
the problem with niceness isn’t that it’s weak to make other people’s lives better—it’s that you have to make a choice to do that, rather than believe your ability to do that is a condition of who you are. the answer to the “niceness” problem obviously isn’t cruelty, it’s reframing goodness as an act of agency, rather than a character trait that people either possess or lack.
it’s not what you are. it’s what you do.
they call me macklemore in math class because im like
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