Redefining The Words “Nice” and “Kind”, and When to Know the Difference

“If you don’t have something nice to say, don’t say anything at all.”

This is a common phrase many of us have heard and adhered to. We were taught that it’s not nice to say things that may hurt people. And we always want to be nice, right?

This phrase has good intentions, but it also can lead to unhealthy ways of handling our thoughts and feelings. 

As I’ve grown, I’ve decided I’m not so sure I want to be nice all the time. I’ve realized through being a therapist that I don’t want to be nice, I want to be kind. There’s a difference between saying nice things and saying kind things.

Sometimes the more kind thing is telling someone a hard truth, both to hold that person accountable and to be more honest with ourselves.

If we hold things in for the sake of being “nice”, we indirectly invalidate our own feelings, telling ourselves “well that’s not a nice thing to say, so I’ll just keep it to myself.” However when we do that, it either persists in our mind and bubbles up later, causing more not nice thoughts, or it teaches us that our thoughts and feelings aren’t valid and must be repressed, which can lead to shame. 

I used to repress my thoughts when they didn’t immediately sound nice. I did it for fear of hurting others, and for wanting to be seen as an agreeable person. In doing so I taught myself that I wasn’t a nice person on the inside, but I needed to try to be nice on the outside. This created a false persona and left me feeling incongruent with myself. I would shy away from all conversations with others, because it was more comfortable not to speak at all even if I did have nice things to say.

It wasn’t until I learned that nice and kind are not the same thing did I allow myself to consider what it meant to be kind.

Instead of immediately dismissing my thoughts, I learned to ask myself “how can I say this in a kind way?” This totally changed the way I thought and spoke to people. It allowed me to see that my thoughts weren’t shameful. I just needed to think through how to express them in a way that is consistent with who I wanted to be, which is kind. Does this sound familiar? Can you see how much more kind this way of thinking is towards ourselves and others?

I’d like to pose an alternative to the phrase “If you don’t have something nice to say, don’t say anything at all.”

What if instead, we said “If you don’t have something nice to say, say it in a way that is kind.”

Kind is honest and genuine. Kind is speaking when your words may help someone, speaking to allow yourself to heal from shame, and speaking when something needs to be said even if it may be hard to hear. Nice may keep us silent and stuck, but kind can free us and help us grow together.

Written by: Megan Rainey