Be nice.

I’ve had to stop myself from saying this to my kids. What does it even mean? “Nice” is one of those general-purpose words like “love” that can mean a hundred different things based on context.

Yeah we can be nice to each other. Baby bunnies are nice. A back rub can be nice. A cold beer would be nice. What does it mean to be nice to someone?

Kindness, on the other hand, is unambiguous. Where niceness is relative, kindness is absolute. Where niceness is inward focused—what would be nice for me, kindness is focused on someone else—being kind always involves someone other than yourself.

When we are nice to someone, it usually implies that we want something in return. Be nice to the other kids on the playground so that they will play with you. Be nice to your coworkers so that your boss will consider you for a promotion. Be nice to your clients so they will call you back.

But kindness is done for a different reason: simply because the other person has value.

Kindness is a good thing in the same way that politeness is a good thing. We are kind to people because they are people. Because they are worthy of respect. We can be kind to someone we don’t even know, someone who we don’t ever expect to meet again, someone from whom we stand nothing to gain. Simply because they are a person, and deserving of kindness and respect.

Also published on Medium.

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