To be nice or to be kind, that is the question

The other day an article in the Globe and Mail caught my attention because of its intriguing title, Canada is fighting Covid-19 with niceness … and losing, by Tenille Bonoguore.  The premise of the article was that in trying to be as nice as possible to Canadians during tough times, the Canadian government has severely weakened its efforts to fully protect its citizens during COVID.  This author was comparing the tough-love “kind” approach of Australia in instituting early, no-holes-barred lockdowns and traveler quarantining to the “nice” approach of Canada in trying to keep options more open as long as possible in the face of uncertainty in order to avoid undue frustration and anger.  (She ignores the fact that the Maritime provinces closed their borders to the rest of Canada early in the process.)

Of course, some of her premises are debatable. I’m sure if we catalogued the full range of national approaches to the pandemic – each nation with its own cultures, national character, and geographic challenges – we’d find holes in each approach taken.  It’s been a one-in-a-lifetime learning process for every country, and it’s not over yet.  However, I was intrigued by her distinction between “nice” and “kind”.

The best way of exploring the nice-kind differences is probably by using the author’s words themselves:

Nice doesn’t want to upset nor offend. It tries to keep everyone happy. It is polite, sweet, often generous. It avoids causing offence. It is quite lovely because it tries hard to be. But it is all veneer. …

Niceness and kindness can wear the same face. More often than not, the kind option is also the nice one. But sometimes – usually at critical junctures – the two diverge because, despite many overlapping features, they are not the same thing.

Niceness is a façade. It is reactive and situational, based on external validation. It worries about what others think, weighing the odds and choosing the path that will get the best response. It is immediate and impulsive. It aims to please – or worse, to appease. It is morally and ethically malleable.

Kindness, by contrast, … strives for decency and fairness. It requires wisdom, strength and a continuing assessment of our own biases and assumptions. Radical kindness has honesty and understanding at its core. It asks questions instead of assuming answers, seeking to understand rather than dictate.

This isn’t the flippant kindness sequined onto throw pillows or the gentle kindness of children’s books. This is a thornier type of kindness, one that weighs heavy on those who choose to embrace it.

It understands that pleasing one often means displeasing another – so, knowing that it cannot please everyone, it doesn’t seek to do so. This kindness takes the long view and tries to discern the best – or least worst – option. …

Kindness can also come with jagged edges. It grapples with reality in all its difficulty. And unlike “nice,” which aims to placate without ever implicating, it understands that life has real consequences that are inevitably borne by someone. …

With kindness at our core, we can enter difficult discussions and be prepared to unapologetically make difficult decisions. Not everyone will like it, but embracing kindness means you are forced to be okay with that. “Nice” lets you have candy for dinner. “Kind” brings the toothbrush. …

Kindness forces you to relinquish control over what others think of you. It forces you to act in ways that are good – rather than in ways you suspect will look good. Kindness combines the emotions inherent to “nice” with the balance required of “fair.” It is the option of adults who have grown beyond trying to please everyone, who have left behind the tit-for-tat of childhood and the insecurity of adolescence. Kindness sees life for all its beauty and difficulty, and doesn’t shy away. …

“Nice” has brought us [Canada in this article] a long way, but “kind” could take us farther. By embracing it, we can all step out of our own shadows and walk into the light.

Hmm. That’s a lot of food for thought for us all, from parents to friends to politicians.  Just to be clear, you can be nice and kind at the same time. But occasionally, to be truly kind, you have to break through the façade of pure “niceness”.  And that’s not always the easier path.

Do these distinctions resonate with you? Do you often find yourself being “nice” when you’d rather be “kind”?!


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40 Responses to To be nice or to be kind, that is the question

  1. Roy McCarthy says:

    Well I suppose either is better than neither, and we see plenty of people who are neither.

  2. Jean says:

    I think I tend to be kind….or even more.. frank. It’s my family background..I come from a family that tends to be more direct/honest. I learned discretion via my father’s personal style. My mother is more blunt. Also growing up in a large family, means more chaos, competition of being “heard”.

    I seriously believe cerain govn’t leaders pressure the chief medical officer in a province which ends up with “softer” restrictions which I don’t like. We need firm direction and clear messaging to all age groups, so people have to understand this is a matter of life and death/long term survival.

    • Jane Fritz says:

      Being frank with discretion sounds like a pretty darn good approach to kindness, Jean. I agree with your assessment of the govts’ softer responses to the advice of their public health officials, especially the western provinces for too long. In the end, you can’t win from that approach. And I don’t think this virus is through with us, not by a long shot. Stay safe!

  3. Good post, Jane. Agree 100% with the nice/kind definitions. Reminds me so much of the psychosynthesis approach; if you’re being “nice” you’re probaby coming from a sub-personality but if you’re being “kind” you’re coming from a far more authentic place – your very centre, the core of your being. Kindness is more of a transpersonal quality, aligned with love, goodwill etc. If you’re coming from your centre, you’ll be heard (not neccesarily liked, but your truth will shine through), whereas being nice is more cosmetic and without depth and authenticity. But niceness and kindness can cooperate – it’s possible to be kind and nice at the same time, loving and firm.

    • Jane Fritz says:

      Thanks, Joyce, for this comprehensive description of the differences. Very useful. You should write a blog post on the topic! Btw, how do I sign on to your other blog?

      • Hi Jane – thanks! I saw your post & the qualities involved from a psychosynthesis viewpoint (psychosynthesis & the astrological psychology I do are deeply intertwined). As I’ve diverged from my original blog content of commenting on the charts of various well-known people I’m adding in several other themes/topics, one of which is qualities. And guess what – I thought, after I’d commented on the nice/kind post you’d out up I thought to myself “Oh, there’s an interesting topic to write on…” So great minds & all that!

        My blog is at
        and I have a link to your blog displayed.

        Returning to Blogger is like a doddle for me after feelig harrassed by the new WordPress, & although Barry manages with it, he still doesn’t like it. So for now I’m staying stress-free, but would welcome you warmly as a visitor/follower!

        • Hi Jane, that blog post on being nice/kind was eventually written & here’s the link:

          You may be interested to see how I developed it a bit – but believe me, the essence of it all is still right there!

        • Jane Fritz says:

          I’m so glad you let me know, Joyce. I signed up for your new blog, but I never received notice of new posts. Hmm. Anyway, great job, a thoughtful and thought-provoking approach.

        • Thanks Jane for dropping by. No idea how the notification system works – Barry had the same non-result! Seems like you probably have to remember to look from time to time, under you own steam…sigh. That’s what I do with yours & other blogs as I zapped the account I got WP notifications from when I “moved”. Good to know you’re around & I can catch up with you via the link to your blog I’ve put on my new blog Btw, I think you can leave comments on my posts via the message bar the the foot of each post.

        • Jane Fritz says:

          Thanks for the hints with Blogspot, Joyce. I’ll give those a try. Hope all’s well.

  4. What really spoke to me here is your early contention, Jane, that if we cataloged each nation’s response to the pandemic, that we’d see a whole lot of inconsistency in each. No nation can rest on its laurels in the past year. Remember when Sweden and South Korea were at one time the standards to which we were all hoping to emulate? Each have since struggled, Sweden more notably of course.

    Re: Nice vs. kind. I like all of the quotes. But the word I feel needs to be in either category is sincerity. Without it, either sentiment can be empty. – Marty

    • Jane Fritz says:

      Yes, it’s a lot easier to point fingers than to think about what a nearly impossible job it has been for the most rational, reasonable of govts to bring along people – typically in the minority – who just don’t think rules should apply to them. Someday we’ll see the other side of this pandemic, and hopefully the hard-working, much maligned public health officials will be able to some rest. I think you’ve nailed it, Marty. Without sincerity, niceness is hollow and the insincerity is transparency. I think her definition of kindness must include sincerity; to make any sense it would have to.

  5. Inkplume says:

    Thought-provoking post, Jane! Politically, Canada has a reputation for being “nice”. And although being kind may take us further, there is a French expression that comes to mind when I think of COVID: Quand on se compare, on se console. Loosely translated, it means when we compare ourselves, we console ourselves. No government has had it easy but I believe ours, at least, has the citizens’ best interests at heart.

  6. Dr. John Persico Jr. says:

    I always enjoy interesting distinctions. Canadians and Minnesotans seem to share this label of nice. Living in Minnesota for fifty years now, I am still frustrated by it at times. I am from NYC. John

    • Jane Fritz says:

      Hmm. Frustrated by people being pleasant to each other or frustrated by govts trying to appease everyone instead of making the tough decisions, like not wanting to upset the oil industry when the govt policy is to combat climate change? I assume you mean the former, since you tie your remark to being from NYC. Ironically, since the the bad decades of mugging, etc., I’ve always found NYC to be among the friendliest of large cities. Very much so, although heaven knows what it’s like right now with nearly deserted streets. But, of course, niceness vs kindness isn’t about friendliness.

  7. Canada’s ‘nice’ approach is little different to the UK’s………………. yours may be born of thoughtfulness and consideration for others, ours has been chaos from the beginning and mismanaged by inept politicians unable of being sane enough to apply good common sense. It took them 7 months to make wearing of masks in shops law and 12 months to finally close our borders…………… but I should cut them a little slack we did get vaccinations underway in December. 🙂 Hopefully we’re now on the road out of this pandemic.

    • Jane Fritz says:

      Yes, A.S., it seems like (fingers crossed), the UK is finally (coming) out of the woods. I think the fact that the strict measures that kept being removed in the past are now staying in place along are an important addition to your very strong vaccination program. So is the strong advice/regulation not to travel out of the country, which wasn’t the case previously. The third wave engulfing parts of Europe are frightening. That virus is going nowhere, it’s just waiting for new opportunities. Canada’s approach has actually been pretty good, especially in the 4 eastern provinces where we’ve actually cut ourselves off from the rest of Canada as well as the US for over a year now, with fairly strict 14-day quarantine requirements in effect when entering or returning. Our death rates in Canada overall have been less than 1/3 that of the UK. But the author prefers Australia’s extraordinarily strict approach, which although draconian, has resulted in a death rate of 1/60 that of the UK. Definitely different national characters and political approaches! These are challenging times in which to lead.

      • ‘That virus is going nowhere, it’s just waiting for new opportunities’ 🙂 pretty much sums up Covid-19’s hold on the World, a thoughtful way of putting it! The UK is opening up but sadly there’ll be a surge however I’ve hope for the future, human ingenuity has developed vaccines that work (170 more in production) but beating it will take a while.

  8. Our public health official here in BC, Dr. Bonnie Henr,y has been touting kindness from the get-go. She also practices what she preaches, by being very firm about her rules and restrictions, but expressed in the nicest possible way. She’s taken a lot of flack for it, but I can see where she’s coming from. I’d never really thought of the distinction between nice and kind before, but I believe the author of the article makes a good point.

    • Jane Fritz says:

      Dr. Bonnie Henry is a treasure, and a great example of kindness vs niceness. Our Chief Health Officer, Dr. Jennifer Russell, is similar in her approach. And Bonnie Henry was born in Fredericton! It’s very interesting how many of the provincial CHOs are women, and Dr. Theresa Tam federally. We’ve been very fortunate in that regard. And they must be exhausted beyond belief.

  9. LA says:

    I veer to the point of kind. I’m rarely nice. I think there is a very big difference between the two. I always remember yearbook quotes. People say that someone is nice when they literally have nothing else to say about them. People categorized as nice get taken for granted, because they are seen as selfless. This is an interesting topic though, so thank you for making me overthink something else today!

  10. Great post….in the last few years I have been eliminating words from my vocabulary that feel non productive, one of them is “nice”…it is tepid and neutral.
    Another word that I have eliminated is “should” as in ” I should” or “you should”.

    Kind on the other hand has survived the word cull, we all need to give and receive a little more kindness.

  11. Excellent distinctions that ring true. Unfortunately, during the pandemic, I feel as though the U.S. has been neither nice nor kind. Rather, mean, stupid, and unkind. I firmly believe that a country can only be as good as its leader, and what a leader we had. Fortunately, there was a big change during our last election, and things are improving, albeit slowly.

    • Jane Fritz says:

      Sigh, it could have been so different. On the other hand, many European countries with less controversial leaders had and continue to have frightening COVID numbers. If the US (and Canada) can hold off the third wave at least more successfully than several EU countries right now, that will show that lessons in tough-love kindness have been learned – and acted upon.

      • Yes! Fingers, toes, and everything else crossed. Just recently there was a spring break in Florida where everyone was partying like it was 1999. Airlines encouraged the partying by offering very cheap airfare. What a mess! And when they revelers go home, what will they bring?

        • Jane Fritz says:

          It’s astounding, isn’t it? It’s like everyone has a death wish, or a death-defying wish. It’s hard to imagine that the variants aren’t enjoying these gatherings. And it’s not just in the US. Us older-but-wiser folks will just stay put!

  12. The United States citizens were met with a President who doubted that the virus even existed and masks were a joke. This is still resonating within our population and we see it here daily (I don’t because I stay home but we hear about it in posts and other forums).
    Nice and kind, I believe, are both being detrimental to our population. In times like this our leaders need to be strict and blatantly honest to ever get this under control. I personally think honesty, regardless of politics, is how our country will survive. No more lies, half-truths!!
    That’s my rant for the day and strictly my opinion!!
    Great post.Jane!

    • Jane Fritz says:

      This is my kind of rant, Rita! Bravo. And I wonder what it says that nearly all the countries that met with notable success in keeping the virus at bay are led by women! Perhaps the role of mother teaches us more about how to instruct/encourage/lead people in the right direction through, as you say, honesty and directness. And firmness when needed. Feel free to rant any time! 😊

  13. AMWatson207 says:

    Very interesting. I’m afraid that I decided long ago that when I was being nice, I wasn’t being kind. For example, I found it true that the only thing worse than no hope is false hope.

  14. DM says:

    Ah, that tension …Son and I were talking about this in a general sort of way yesterday in regard to some parenting questions… the temptation to want your kids to like you when what they need is a parent who is willing to be a parent and not their buddy..

  15. barryh says:

    Nice kind of post!
    Yes I really get that distinction, having been trained early on to be nice.
    I see that it’s hard for politicians to be kind, rather than nice. Our UK government hasn’t been too bad during covid, although they always have a blind spot with poor and disadvantaged people where they tend to be nasty, neither kind nor nice. And woe betide anyone trying to get into the country to escape intolerable situations at home.

    • Jane Fritz says:

      Great first line, Barry. Nice kind of comment! I do see the conundrums for politicians in dealing with this never-seen-before virus causing a global pandemic. I have less sympathy for those (many) politicians who play to constituents’ misunderstandings of reality (or of doing the right thing) in the name of niceness AND of getting votes. As some find out, taking Brexit as just one example, Walter Scott nailed it when he wrote: What a tangled web we weave when first we practice to deceive.

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