The Tyranny Of Nice

by Rich Dixon on February 23, 2010

Today our newest contribution to the One-Word-At-A-Time Blog Carnival. I encourage you to click the link and check out some of the other carnival attractions. This week’s word is:


loving-kindnessDiplomacy is the art of saying “Nice doggie” until you can find a rock. Will Rogers

Can you really “kill them with kindness”?

I’ve never considered the notion of literally harming someone with kindness. But recently I’ve encountered some folks who’ve caused me to wonder. As I analyzed their frustrating behavior, I concluded that they’d developed the ability to deploy “being nice” as an interpersonal weapon.

Have you ever encountered someone who’s so nice that it’s nearly impossible to disagree with them without feeling guilty? They say and do outrageous things, but no one can confront them because they’re just so darned nice.

These folks use nice to control and manipulate. Sometimes it does seem as if they’re literally trying to suffocate others in niceness.


Kind and nice are sort of innocuous words. Everybody knows that kind and nice are good things, right? Be kind to animals, play nice in the sandbox. We seem to use them somewhat interchangeably.

I felt silly consulting a dictionary about such common words, but what I found surprised me a little.

kind: of a sympathetic or helpful nature; of a forbearing nature; gentle

nice: pleasing, agreeable; socially acceptable

Apparently kind and nice aren’t exactly synonyms. Kindness is more concerned with others. It’s associated with gentleness, forbearance, sympathy, helpfulness. In contrast, niceness is about getting along, being social and agreeable.


I examined the well-known passage listing the fruits of the Spirit:

But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control. Against such things there is no law. [Galatians 5:22-23]

No surprises there, so I looked at some other translations. In place of kindness the KJV uses gentleness. In The Message it’s stated as a sense of compassion in the heart.

There it is again—kindness connotes compassion and gentleness.

What does scripture say about nice? In a keyword search in my online bible (NIV) kindness appears dozens of times—not a single instance of nice.


I’m thinking that kindness is an expression of agape, the self-sacrificing love Jesus demonstrated. If I’m right, then “killing with kindness” isn’t really accurate.

The goal of authentic kindness isn’t guilt or manipulation. Kindness seeks the interests of others, which includes gentle, loving confrontation when it’s appropriate.

Kindness involves an attitude of service centered on the other person’s needs. Niceness potentially disguises selfishness behind concern for social convention or propriety. It’s doing the right thing, but possibly for the wrong reason.

I’ve always liked thinking of myself as a nice guy, and there’s nothing intrinsically wrong with that. It’s generally good to be pleasing and agreeable.

But I hope I always integrate nice with kindness. I hope I’m a steward who beings an attitude of agape to my interactions.

I want to value transparency, open communication, and a desire to understand. I want to be aware of the times when I’m tempted to meet my own needs at the expense of others through pleasant, skillful coercion.

I hope I can avoid relationships smothered by “the tyranny of nice.”

Do you encounter occasions when someone (or maybe you) attempts to camouflage control behind a veneer of nice?

If you want others to be happy, practice compassion.  If you want to be happy, practice compassion.  Dalai Lama 


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{ 8 comments… read them below or add one }

GlynnNo Gravatar February 23, 2010 at 6:25 am

“Nice” is often a shield, a wall and a weapon. “Kind” speaks for itself, because it doesn’t exist until it is. Good post.


katdishNo Gravatar February 23, 2010 at 7:37 am

Ugh! I know way too many people like that. I’m not a fan of that passive/aggressive stuff. Very annoying. And perhaps I shouldn’t, but I have a habit of calling people out when they try to “nice” me to death.


Rich DixonNo Gravatar February 23, 2010 at 8:02 am

You’re right–it really is passive-aggressive. For me, the trick is figuring out how to confront that behavior without anger. And of course they’re astonished–after all, they’re just being nice!


BridgetNo Gravatar February 23, 2010 at 11:15 am

Hiding behind “niceness” is an interesting tactic. I hadn’t given the differences in ‘kind’ and ‘nice’ much consideration… thanks for bringing them to my attention, Rich.


HelenNo Gravatar February 23, 2010 at 12:27 pm

Very interesting. You are right. The two can overlap, but aren’t interchangeable. I never really thought about the difference before. Thank you.


Kevin M.No Gravatar February 23, 2010 at 9:03 pm

“The goal of authentic kindness isn’t guilt or manipulation. Kindness seeks the interests of others, which includes gentle, loving confrontation when it’s appropriate.”

I don’t think you can have kindness without love. They are like two peas in a pod!


Rick YuzziNo Gravatar February 24, 2010 at 7:35 am

Great insight. I never thought about the difference between the two. There are truly nice people. Some are nice because they just want to get along with everyone, and they may not have ulterior motives. Some are nice because it springs from the fruit of kindness. As you allude to, those who are kind are nice when appropriate, but are willing to take a stand for truth, even if it means not being nice all the time.


nAncYNo Gravatar February 25, 2010 at 6:28 am

this post is not nice…it's kind.


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