An Exploration of Being Nice and Kind

By Emma Pearson

June 22, 2024

Writing Prompt from Megan Devine on 28 May 2019

Artwork by Sarah Treanor (

We don’t tear into people when they say insensitive things. We don’t point out how unhelpful or mean something is, even when it’s flat-out rude. Why? Because we’re being “nice.”

If you point out that “everything happens for a reason” is a really mean thing to say to someone whose person died, someone else might tell you to focus on the speaker’s “good intentions.” Or, they might chide you for being impolite. We put the burden of “niceness” on the grieving person, instead of giving feedback that helps others actually deliver that support they intend. 

What IS it with being “nice”? 

The word “nice” comes from French and Latin roots, meaning foolish and ignorant: literally, to be without knowledge. Being nice means not saying what you know to be true, because the truth would upset the social order. Being nice means you silence yourself, rather than make others uncomfortable. Being nice means you let rude comments slide, so the rude person doesn’t have to feel bad about their comment. 

You can be kind. But you don’t have to be nice. 

Set your timer for ten minutes, and free-write your response to these two questions: 

What do I gain by being “nice”? What do I lose by being “nice”? 

What do I gain by being “nice”?

I keep friendships ticking along.

I remain part of society.

I “model” tenacity and resilience.

I practise non-attachment with regards to expectations of others.

I practise being able to let go and forgive.

I practise being able to take the moral high ground.

What do I lose by being “nice”?

I lose myself.

I lose my integrity.

I lose my value, which is all I have to offer, anyway.  

I lose the ability to live from my values, one of which is to be authentic and true to myself.

I dissociate my heart and belly from my brain and mouth.

I lose any sense of relaxed-ness I might have as my jaw and teeth clench and my eyes tighten.

I lose my centredness and power which is so vital for just getting through each moment, each conversation.

I become a leaf fallen from a tree in autumn winds – bounced and tossed about on others’ needs for stability (often my stability, my predictability – not just their own safety), unaware that their need for stability increases my sense of being unmoored.  If I don’t have “my” reality, then what do I have?

I lose me, the hole in me, and the whole of me.

I am happy – really happy – to be kind, when I have the resources in me to be kind. I love kind. I love being kind.

But being “nice” – that is so different. That takes a whole other level of resource, which I don’t always have, and which, more to the point, I just don’t believe in.

Kind and Nice are as different as real sugar and fake saccharine.

I choose real sugar, the rich and chewy, gorgeous caramel-y stuff, every time.

And will continue to spit out the saccharine.

About Emma Pearson

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