Why I Don’t Tell My Children to Be Nice.

Do Contribute | Social Entrepreneur

Photo by Annie Spratt

This is not a parenting story, but parenting happens to be the avenue by which this particular lesson was delivered. Raising human beings has a way of shining light into dark corners.

I’d get that look in my eye, my brow furrowed. But before I could utter a sound, my children would shake their little heads and mumble, “We know. Be nice.”

High fives all around for parenting success, or so I thought. Have you ever gotten one of those beautiful shiny chocolate rabbits at Easter? You go in for a bite of dense bunny ear goodness only to have it crumble in your hands. Hollow. That’s what “Be Nice” had quickly become — this thing my kids did just to get me off their back. Zero substance. I didn’t understand how we’d gotten so far off track.

Nice is sly. He’s banking on you being so dazzled by his shine you won’t bother to take a closer look. Oh, but I looked and you should too. Go ahead, lean in, squint until it comes into focus. Uh-huh. Do you see it too?

Nice is pleasant, but you wonder, Is she sincere? Nice does not lie, but you question, Does he really believe what he says? Nice cares for others, but out of obligation. Nice is middle of the road, careful not to make waves. Nice is the easy way out.

So, if Nice isn’t all its built up to be why do we so easily fall prey to its allure? What’s the alternative? To be mean? Most of us choose Nice, but as we’ve seen, Nice is a shiny poser like that hollow bunny. There’s a better option: Kind. The dictionary says Nice and Kind are synonymous, interchangeable. I disagree. Kind is of a higher order — solid chocolate gold. Whereas, Nice is the cheap knock-off.

Kind is pleasant and her sincerity is rarely in question. Kind doesn’t lie and it’s clear what he believes in. Kind cares for others out of compassion and empathy. Kind picks a side, even if it disrupts the status quo. Kind requires effort.

You might think that while not noble, Nice seems harmless enough. But harmless is Nice’s cunning lie to keep us on auto-pilot. To keep us at arm’s reach from each other. To keep us passive. Kind, on the other hand, looks outside itself and asks, What is needed? How can I make this situation better? Kind insists we get involved. Make eye contact. Speak up. Stand up. Notice.

Nice doesn’t stop at our social interactions. It seeps into our work. Do you think you can go through the motions of life, barely skimming the surface then turn around and produce unmistakable work? At best you produce beige. Doesn’t harm anything, but certainly doesn’t bring about change. Blends in. Provokes no response. Flat.

What happens if you heed Kind’s beckon to actively engage with the people around you? A deeper, wider world opens to you. You start to see below the surface, layers upon layers. You recognize patterns that are ripe for disruption and you notice the gaps begging to be filled. You are immersed. You create work that serves. You create work that has an opinion. That cares enough to pick sides. Your work is welcomed.

Nice or Kind? Now that you know, you must choose. And it is a choice. As for me, with furrowed brow and a small glint in my eye, I now ask my children; how can you be kind?


Denise Cornell

Social Entrepreneur

Denise Cornell

Co-owner and creative director, Denise is learning everyday. Learning that building a creative business is worlds away from the 10 years spent in the trenches at 3 enterprise software start-ups.

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