I am intentionally trying to ban the use of the word “nice” from our household vocabulary, particularly when it comes to describing my daughter. You may be thinking, “What? You don’t want your daughter to be a nice person?” Actually, no, I don’t. I want my daughter to be a kind person. And there is a difference.
When looking up the word nice, Merriam-Webster offers the following:
- As in polite … following the established traditions of refined society and good taste.
- As in pleasant … giving pleasure or contentment to the mind or senses.
- As in gracious … having an easygoing and pleasing manner, especially in social situations.
- As in honorable … conforming to a high standard of morality or virtue.
Whew! What woman doesn’t feel the pressure of those descriptors? It’s because from birth, we are taught to be nice, no matter the circumstances. Nice girls always look and behave perfectly. Nice girls are never overly aggressive, assertive, or demanding. Nice girls don’t cause a scene and definitely don’t make anyone uncomfortable. Nice girls are selfless and put others first. Nice girls avoid conflict and apologize even when it’s not their fault. And nice girls smile … a lot.
Living up to the expectations of being “nice” is exhausting and, frankly, doing a disservice to women everywhere. Niceness is rooted in patriarchal expectations around power and outdated etiquette books. Being the nice girl often leaves women in compromising or even dangerous positions, partly due to a lack of clear boundaries or a fear of being unliked. And, as anyone who has been on the other end of a Southern “bless her heart” knows, being nice isn’t always … nice.
Which is why I want my daughter to be kind. While seemingly similar to nice on the surface, what Merriam-Webster lists for kind is drastically different in impact:
- As in thoughtful … given to or made with heedful anticipation of the needs and happiness of others.
- As in compassionate … having or marked by sympathy and consideration for others.
Kindness is about genuine care and connection – not passive or surface level, but intentional and deep. A kind person is empathetic and compassionate, both for others and themselves. Someone who knows saying no can be the kindest thing you can do—being kind means standing up for what is right and voicing your opinion, even if it makes others uncomfortable. It means setting boundaries based on your own and others’ best interests and being kind in a world that can feel anything but requires courage and strength.
So, no, I don’t want my daughter to be nice. I want her to be kind. A person who is thoughtful and compassionate in her interactions with others, but also someone who feels comfortable setting boundaries and rocking the boat to defend what is right. And while she’s not yet old enough to understand the difference, I know instilling in her the capacity and confidence for kindness in a world that wants her just to sit down and be a “nice girl” has to start at home, and it has to start now.