Kindness vs Niceness

A friend asked me to talk about the difference between kindness and niceness, as both concepts are used in an effort to point children in the direction of appropriate social skills. This topic had been sitting in my bank of ideas when the perfect moment arrived. Ellen Degeneres drew heat this past week when it came to light that she enjoys a close friendship with former President George W. Bush, a man responsible for the deaths of tens of thousands of people both domestically and internationally and one who chipped away at the rights of swaths of U.S. citizens. Given her claim that she is kind to all, this crisis presents a unique opportunity to take a deeper look at kindness versus niceness. Kindness has many benefits and it’s certainly a noble trait to pursue. So, what’s the difference between kindness and niceness? Is Ellen’s situation truly an example of kindness?

Dictionaries don’t offer much of a distinction, but clearly we do differentiate in common parlance. Niceness is demonstrably synonymous with politeness, whereas kindness exists in a deeper, more committed space. I propose my own definitions for the sake of clarity. 

Niceness is the quality of being polite in pursuit of respectability and maintaining the status quo. Niceness avoids conflicts and behaves in socially acceptable ways in order to reveal our best intentions. Niceness derives from humanity’s basic drive to be accepted within a social group. Clothes can be nice. Days can be nice. Dogs can be nice. People can be nice. Niceness is the overarching compliment paid to those who make us feel good. However, it can be misleading at best and fraudulent at worst. Niceness uses adherence to social standards as a means to improve a person’s social standing and, therefore, it cannot be relied upon to advance all people equally. Not when our culture suffers from disparities in equity across all aspects of identity.

Niceness brings us school flyers like this one where children are told they are responsible for the bullying that happens to them, that only they can stop it by appearing strong, and that they can hope the bully moves on to hurt another child.

Kindness, on the other hand, is active compassion and connection built out of intentional service to others. It accounts for its impacts. Kindness can be maintaining close ties to problematic people out of genuine love, and resting on the strength of that relationship to discuss difficult topics. Kindness can also be setting boundaries that limit our exposure to people who mean us harm, and using our energies instead to provide radical advocacy for oppressed people. Kindness exists in many places across the spectrum of justice. Kindness looks like states taking steps to assess children for childhood trauma (and presumably moving to include identity-based injuries, such as race-based traumatic stress, in the ACEs assessment). It looks like entire school systems addressing the problem of bullying by teaching children about boundaries, consent, and cooperation. It looks like zero tolerance policies that elevate – and at the very least believe – children who speak out against bullying while at the same time placing bullies into programs that help them work through their inner turmoil and learn better coping skills. 

In Ellen’s case, kindness could have been saying that she had found common ground with Mr. Bush, acknowledging his problematic positions, and using her proximity to him to advocate for the rights of disenfranchised people. It could have been using her white and economic privilege as a unsettling force. It could have been openly recognizing that Mr. Bush holds views that fundamentally conflict with her own. Views that inflict intentional harm on people she loves. Or, she could have joined the ranks of those who rightfully decry the massive injustices faced by enormous segments of our population.

I understand the conflict as I admittedly feel compelled to stay connected to people in order to be what may be the only contentious voice in their lives. I believe I’m responsible for using my privilege and my access to challenge my peers to abandon destruction in favor of restoration. I hope to use my voice to give them pause in the voting booth as I contextualize the effects of their choices, correct the misinformation they receive, and quell their anger that rages against the unknown.

I believe there’s kindness in connecting with the humanity in people who do harm and urging them to stop. And, I believe there is kindness in stepping back into the ranks of the harmed and standing up for people whose needs are not being met. Both are valid forms of activism. But, I do not see Ellen doing either as she digs in her heels regarding her relationship with Mr. Bush. I hope that she does carry the activism she wields in other areas of her life into this friendship. I hope that it’s already happening and she just hasn’t found a way to express it. And, I hope we, as Peaceful Parents, strive to understand the difference between niceness and kindness, and to acknowledge that Peaceful Parenting is going to be divisive in a culture that actively advances the status quo. Niceness is permissive. Kindness is brave.

The Peaceful Parenting Philosophy, Oppression, and Grace

It’s launch day for the blog, and I have so many thoughts spinning in my mind. Peaceful Dad and I had a conversation tonight over supper about my post on privilege. It was difficult. He reminded me that, as a white person, some people may be inclined to regard my words over those of a Black person saying exactly the same thing. He said that, while there’s not much I can do about how other people perceive me, I can and should be explicitly clear about my impetus for making controversial statements about something as sensitive as discipline in a public-facing blog; that to some I will look an awful lot like another white person colonizing a way of life. Ouch. And, he’s right. The vast majority of Peaceful Parenting “experts” are white. The vast majority of people in Peaceful Parenting discussion groups are white. I asked him if I should write at all and he said he couldn’t answer a binary question like that. He said that there’s value in what I’m doing, but that I should accept rightful criticism from people who don’t experience the world the way I do. 

I will absolutely grant that Peaceful Parenting is a special interest of mine. The philosophy and all its manifestations show up in my dreams, in my conversations, in my writing, and in every encounter I have with my children. It’s an extension of my world view… of my faith. I probably speak with too much authority about it and offer advice where I’m neither wanted nor needed. I will be working toward waiting for an invitation to offer my perspective rather than jumping right into a conversation. I will try to ask if my presence is welcome.

I want my readers to know that I do not consider myself an expert by any stretch of the imagination. I’ve read a lot and learned a lot from others, but I don’t know what it’s like to parent a teenager or a child with Oppositional Defiant Disorder or one who has been bullied. In my heart of hearts, what I strive for is to bring people together to brainstorm solutions. I don’t have all the answers, but together, we can accomplish much.

I also need to work on extending grace. I need to affirm that people parent differently than I do, because they’re doing their best with the circumstances they face just as I am. I firmly believe that Peaceful Parenting as a philosophy is a head above other approaches to discipline and that adopting an inclusive, respectful viewpoint about children will naturally lead to kinder interactions and more resilient kids. I see so many memes about Peaceful Parents giving ourselves grace when we don’t meet our own expectations. I have yet to see one about Peaceful Parents being non-judgmental toward parents who use traditional methods.

I’m committed to presenting alternatives and asking my readers to consider why they do what they do. I celebrate anyone who chooses to be kind whether or not their entire parenting philosophy aligns with mine. I hope we can find some commonalities and better understand each other.

I appreciate all of you.

Peaceful Parenting and Privilege

I believe Peaceful Parenting is right for every child and every parent. There is no child on this planet who would not benefit from a respectful, gentle approach. However, Peaceful Parenting is broad and solutions are not one-size-fits-all. More important, privilege plays a major role in it.

I am a white ciswoman. I am married. My husband is employed and I am able to stay home to parent. I am able to feed and clothe my children without any worry. And, while our family’s income is not currently sufficient to support our needs without some public assistance, my husband’s retirement account is growing and I will almost certainly be the recipient of generational wealth eventually, so we have assets that many families do not. We also have extended family members who provide much of what we cannot.

To my readers who aren’t sure if they’re in the right place, I want you to know that I realize my situation is no comparison, for instance, to that of a woman of color raising children on her own, working multiple jobs, and fearing for her children’s health and safety. So, while I will always promote Peaceful Parenting and try to offer suggestions to parents who pose problems to me, I am no sanctimommy and I recognize that what works for me won’t work for everyone. I also recognize that I am representative of whiteness and a symbol of privilege. There will be parents who come to this blog and have trouble relating to what I post. It is not my place to lecture a disadvantaged person on how to be a better parent when I am shielded from the trials they face. My intention is to offer support and brainstorm ideas; not to heap more pressure onto your shoulders. As I go forward, I intend to compile resources from people who can speak to your experience in a way I cannot. I do sincerely hope that we can find common ground and that you will take something positive away from my words, whatever that might look like for you.

To readers who are more like me, particularly white readers, I want you to understand my belief is that, as a white person, I am responsible for speaking directly to other white people regarding issues of justice, particularly issues that directly impact Black people, as half of my family is Black. With that said, I defer to the expert words of Dr. Joy Degruy who explains some of the historic-cultural differences between white parents and Black parents and, proximally, why Peaceful Parenting is especially complicated for Black people. My hope is that this video will open your eyes to your own privilege and help you understand how your experience is not the same as that of people of color. I intend to bring more of this content to the blog to encourage my fellow white readers to be a disruptive force where you can to the benefit of oppressed people.