I’ve intimated this before, but feel that this needs a better outlining here…
There is a vast, ethically-crucial divide between being nice and being kind. In my work and figuring, nice is morally deplorable and kindness is the only true moral position but is not incompatible with being mean (I shall explain the difference between mean/cruel some other time).
Being nice is the combination of doing what tradition tells you is the right thing to do as well as what you would want in the exact same situation. The Golden Rule or the Categorical Imperative are both formulations of niceties. This is pervasive. This is considered the right thing to do. One feels the necessity out of being nice to do for others what one would want in the same situation. Niceness is motivated by compassion, a sympathy in which one reappropriates the pain of others as one’s own. I see your pain, and I do what I would imagine I’d want if I had that.
From the outset, such a position seems to be such a perfect one for the position of ethics. However, the “Do unto Others” maxim misses the mark to often to truly be ethically sound. Niceties don’t focus on the other as other before me, just who I want the other to be. Being nice is projecting. I don’t really give the other person a chance to be his/her own person, but instead am contorting their pain or suffering into my own form and understanding. The cruelest things that have happened to me in recent memory were done with the nicest of intentions. Niceties hurt since they don’t take the other in direct consideration, but instead as a secondary consideration to one’s own navel-gazing.
Compassion does not work well. It makes a bold claim about pain or the experience of others from the point of privilege. False allies are motivated by compassion and niceties. Compassion is a dominant voice over the voice of the marginalized. Advocating without paying attention to the advocated. Compassion is a patronizing control over the other person. “Oh, I didn’t think you could do it alone, so I stepped in…. Oh, you still can’t do it.”… and so on.
Instead, the aim should be kindness. This, by my formulation of it, is directly dependent upon an empathetic understanding of others that one wants to help. It is first necessary to understand the other as best as possible. Listen to the other give an account of his or her pain or suffering directly. Don’t reduce the other’s experience to your own selfish experience. Instead let others speak for themselves. Kindness then follows from what the other needs, not what you think [hope] they need.
Niceties dictate. Kindness listens. Kindness is harder than being nice, but worth the effort. It allows for a more open dialogue in understanding between people.
More on this some other time.