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Being kind requires more than Midwestern niceties

World Kindness Day is Saturday. I estimate that five other people knew that until now, and you became the sixth as you sit in class, reading this and hoping your professor does not show up so you can have two hours to finish homework that is due for the next class.

What does one do for World Kindness Day? What is kindness? Many of us are caught up in that Midwest manner of being “nice,” not kind. Nice is an American idea overall and one that is overwhelmingly owned by us “fly-over” states.

The question, “How are you?” does not exist in many other languages. One of my best gal pals from Korea says the custom was difficult for her to adapt to when she came to study at Ohio State. In her language, people ask real questions, not questions that just pick at the surface and that people are not interested in at all.

There is a chasm between being “nice” and actually being “kind.” Kindness is complex, it requires practice and it is selfless. Kindness means thinking of people and their feelings, even when they are not present. Kindness can simply be actions of civility, whether that behavior is to a friend or stranger. There is power and sensitivity to speaking truth when it is necessary to do so.

Nice is not making fun of an outsider in your group. Kindness is finding events to invite that person to so they feel included. Kindness is sending a thank-you note or a thinking-of-you card. Nice is getting something off the registry that is about equal or less than the dinner you will get at someone’s wedding.

The recent focus on bullying has many people talking about the need for us to “play nice in the sandbox” and “tolerate” each other. What poor word choice, I say. The bullies could certainly learn to be nicer, but everyone in the situation could learn to be kinder. Another kid trying to be inclusive and supportive could have made a difference in bullying victims’ lives.

Kindness is not easy but it can be so important. We have all experienced kindness — when a bad day or a terrible moment turns around because of someone’s thoughtfulness — the time a friend picks you up after you know you bombed an exam to enjoy margaritas at Mad Mex, reminding you there are still two more exams. And because of that, you stop someone from bashing a guy in your sociology class for smelling.

When others encourage us, we are more likely to encourage or be kind to someone else. I encourage everyone to think about that this weekend and to come up with ways to reach out to others. As we practice being kind, we can change people’s lives. You can mature to a place in your life where you know when something is wrong and you are going to speak up about it regardless of backlash.

Being kind over time develops character and perseverance. When there is an occasion for you to be kind, I hope you have the wherewithal to speak for someone else because at some point in your life, you are going to want someone to speak for you.

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