Be kind sometimes
One late afternoon over the weekend, I was sitting on a crowded underground train on the Piccadilly line heading home. There were six more stations until my destination. As the train door opened, countless people were rushing in to fit in the already-crammed space. A mother, who was carrying her young daughter in her arms, managed to squeeze in the space in front of my seat. The moment I caught her struggle to carry her child among the crowd, I spoke to her earnestly without hesitance. “Would you like to sit down?”, said I.
A bright spark in her eyes momentarily lightened up her expressions. For a second, when this lightened expression isolated my mind, I realised she was beautiful. She and her child had golden, luscious, wavy hair like the rippled water under the bright sun. She then looked at the child’s tiredness and looked at me. “Yes, please,” murmured she. No one in the crowd cared as we swapped our places. As I stood up, she said to her child “Mary, say thank you to this kind lady.” Mary glanced at me with her round blue eyes, then turned around and asked her mother “What is “kind”?”
Maybe it was her blue eyes, or maybe it was this question that has ignited my thoughts around kindness.
Kindness is not nice
Among the daily language, I hear, one of the most frequent misapprehension is the notion of being “kind” vs. “nice.” I observe that these two words are frequently used interchangeably. However, their implications are miles apart. I believe being kind is not the same as being nice. The root of the two behaviours is indeed in contrast.
Being nice is rooted in passiveness and submissiveness to a higher order.
Nice . adj. “pleasant, pleasing or agreeable in nature, socially or conventionally correct; refined or virtuous”. (Source)
On the other hand, being kind is an assertive and dominant act that is characterised by mercy, and compassion.
Kind .adj. “having or showing a tender, considerate and helpful nature; tolerant and forgiving under provocation” (Source)
On the surface, it seems like there is hardly any difference between the two. However, I feel there is a pressing need to make the distinction because it is mistakenly believed that success cannot be achieved with kindness. (See Guardian's article Sometimes – unfortunately – being an asshole is the way to get ahead). The submissive actions referred in these kinds of articles are niceness but often confused by the author to be kindness.
The nice person proceeds with the agreeable, pleasing actions to be perceived highly by others and with the conditional expectations of returns. Niceness is rooted in fear: the fear of being disagreed with, the fear of being unpopular and the fear of not obtaining what he wants. For example, a search on Quora with the keywords “nice guy” results in an endless amount of questions on the topic of why “nice guys” are treated not as well as they expect. “Why don’t people/ girls do x when I am nice (to them)?” I believe the question answers itself - because they are “nice.” Placing expectations of returns on others is one of the quickest way to emotional slavery and dependency on others for happiness.
Take the topic of why the “nice guy” Harry suffers from being friend-zoned as an example. The frank answer is because Harry chose to “proceed with the agreeable, pleasing actions in order to be perceived highly” by his mating choice, and “with the conditional expectations of returns” that these submissive actions would yield him the relationship. In reality, this is rarely the case.
Being nice and expecting a return from niceness is simply not "nice" at all - it is manipulative. Being the “nice guy”, Harry may (subconsciously) think of an exchange of his “niceness” for the success to secure his mating choice. This act is simply deceitful, which women, consciously or subconsciously, are held guarded against. I use the biological term “mating choice” here to tell the naked truth that, whether Harry is aware of it or not, he does not consider the person he desires as a human being, but only a target. Instead being upfront about what he wants and engages in an open conversation about his feelings, Harry is manipulative in thinking if he’s “nice” to his mating choice; he’d get something in returns.
A lesson I have learnt over the years is there are two sources of power in life. Power is gained using others’ wants or fears. You are powerful when you either have what people want or have what people fear of; or in some cases, both. In this case, Harry’s strategy is usually a loss-making game because Harry’s mating choice has what he desires hence she holds higher power in the interaction. When Harry fails to acquire such power, he turns around to complain about why his exchange has no returns i.e. why others are not nice to him despite his “niceness.” What Harry did not understand that niceness, being rooted in fears and conditional expectations, never win and almost always cause anxiety.
What should Harry do? First, Harry should understand his “best alternative to a negotiated agreement” (BATNA), stop playing the manipulative act and be upfront/ firm with the woman about his feelings. If he’s rejected, he should show the woman that he has a higher BATNA. To do this, Harry should thank her for the feelings she has given him, then immediately stop hanging around her and move on. Leaving is extremely important - because by doing this, Harry has regained the power onto his side. There is no fear or wants on his side he seemed not to be able to abandon, leaving the other party to think his BATNA is higher than theirs.
What is more interesting is that this act is not a nice act, but this is a kind act. Harry is not nice to this woman in the sense that he did not commit to be “pleasant, pleasing or agreeable” by abandoning the whole interaction. However, he was kind to himself and herself because he was “tolerant and forgiving under provocation” to her after the rejection and had shown “a tender, considerate and helpful nature” in the sense he accommodated the fact she did not want him; and leave.
Kindness is a continuous practice of altering perspectives
The distinction through this example shed some lights into how I view kindness - an assertive and dominant act that is based on courage, not fear. One of the key differences between kindness and niceness is the conditional expectations of returns. Expectations of returns create dependency and can drag you into a spiral of anxiety over others’ actions.
Kindness is a continuous practice of altering perspectives into someone else’s. Kindness comprises of three steps: Empathy, sympathy and compassions - all of which requires you to step into the other person’s point of views. Being able to alter perspective is crucial for interpersonal success and can take you very far in life. I therefore disagree with many articles which said that a kind person cannot rise to the top. In fact, in the book “The Charisma Myth”, the author discussed at length the “kindness charisma” among the four charisma types (focus, visionary, kindness and authority) and how kindness charisma can help you succeed. Princess Diana or Dalai Lama were mentioned as the evident examples of kindness charisma.
Kindness is peace
I recently changed the motto of this site to “The art of everyday elegance”. To me, elegance is not about wealth, your possessions nor your status. Elegance is a lot simpler and easier to achieve, because it starts from within you and begins with kindness. Kindness is the core of elegance. Look at a woman who is kind to others, you see surrounds her the glow of grace, positivity, peace and respect.
It is difficult for people to be kind when they are in a turbulence of their emotional states. It is difficult to be kind when their mind are occupied with the burden of lives, of putting food on the tables, of worries about tomorrow. It is difficult to be kind when they feel the insufficient resources to help, first themselves, not to say helping others.
It takes extra efforts to understand others and their problems, which most of us know nothing about. “Be kind, for everyone you meet is fighting a harder battle.” - Plato. The reason why the act of kindness are not as abundant as some of us would like, is because kindness is the display of the most desirable and stable mental state: Peace. You are kind to yourself and others when you are at peace with yourself and others. Recall the latest time when you was kind to someone else, and take a close look at how you felt. Was it peace?
That is rather a long explanation to Mary of what kindness is. Right when she asked “What is kind?”, I just got lost in her blue eyes with a big smile on my face. She then turned to her mother with excitement “Mom, she is pretty!”
At that moment, little did she know she was kind to me, because she stepped into my perspective. I felt exactly the same way about her.
Illustration: Rosalba Carriera (Italian, 1673 - 1757), A Muse, Italian, mid-1720s, Pastel on laid blue paper