Difference Between Kind, Nice and a Doormat: Giving up the cake

Howdy doormat

Can I tell you that when I hear someone say, “she/he is so nice” it instinctively makes me groan in disgust. Of course, if I’m talking with someone I have just met and they make the comment about someone we both know, a loud groan of disgust would be socially inappropriate. Instead, I smile widely and try to say something nice back, such as: “ Yes, isn’t she/he.” Why do I do that? Because it’s the only way I can distract my mind from going to that sarcastic place in my head that has no filter and will betray me with a rude, off-putting eye roll.

Have you noticed that when one is calling someone, ‘nice’, their voice usually goes up at least one octave.   As if they themselves become that sweet, nice person just by saying it.

I don’t like the word, nice, for the reason that it is ‘the’ word thrown around, yet no one seems to know what its real definition is.

For example, I was talking with a friend on the phone the other day. Her married son, daughter-in-law and two small children moved into her 5th wheel stored next to her house. Why did they move into her 5th wheel?   Because she already had her five children living with her in her four bedroom house.

After a few weeks of this, she approached her son with the request to help with the grocery bills.   The son became irate and told his mother that he couldn’t and how dare she ask him such a thing. Didn’t Mom understand he was trying to save for a new house?

Mom didn’t respond.   Instead she turned from the trailer and left. But while telling me about the experience she concluded that, “Well at least he knows how I feel. And then with a burst of pride she adds, “I’m just too nice.”

Too nice?

Yes, she did ask nicely, I have no doubt of that. But is that really what nice looks like or was she just trying to justify an inability to stand up against an angry outburst?

To me, her initial request sounded like a well-founded need of, “Hey, I’m drowning here and could use some help.” For Mom to back down from that request because she came up against resistance is not my definition of ‘nice’.

Let’s define “nice”.   1) Giving pleasure or joy. 2) Good and enjoyable 3) Attractive or of good quality. 4) Kind, polite and friendly 5) Amiably pleasant 6) A city in France. (I know it’s just the spelling not the pronunciation)

I have another friend. He was born with a birth defect that affects his mobility, not his mentality, although many people throughout his life have gotten the two confused. He has never been able to run as fast as anyone, was always the last to be picked for the team, if at all. He was that kid that was pushed down on the black top and then laughed at, pushed into his locker, tripped on his way to class, looked at with scorn by other girls, etc, etc.

He doesn’t really talk about it. In fact, he always has a smile. But because of his past he is much more mindful of the importance of a kind gesture or word and thus he uses them consistently. He is the epitome of kindness. He ALWAYS has a kind, supportive word. Is it annoying? As in all things there is a balance. My friend takes his emotional support beyond the normal boundaries. He gives it even when it’s not asked for or needed. And so sometimes… it can be annoying because everything that is said he turns it into “Oh you poor thing, I need to help you feel better. It would be so much more enjoyable to have a conversation/relationship with him if he stopped relating to everyone within his own perspective that the world is a hurtful place, we are helpless within it and I will do my best to help you stay afloat.

Is kindness and nice the same? Although both are appreciated and admired traits, their connotations are different as their definitions are separate and individual. Kindness is defined as: 1) Of a friendly, generous or warm-hearted nature. 2) Showing sympathy or understanding, charitable. 3) Humane, considerate 4) forbearing, tolerant 5) agreeable, beneficial. 6) Having or showing a tender, considerate and helping nature.

And within those two definitions, although Doormat can be easily perceived as intermingling amongst them, it actually has its own definition. In fact, I found the definition of Doormat from a Cambridge dictionary. “A person who accepts being treated badly and does not complain.” But it’s more than that isn’t it? Other definitions add to and clarify: “a person who allows others to dominate them.” And finally, the best and most thorough definition: “They don’t always fall in line with the expected quiet or shy person, they can be outgoing.   A person who desperately wants to be called a best friend and believes being nice and kind is the best way to achieve that. They try to be there for anyone who needs them no matter what the personal costs and expects nothing in return. They to some extent enjoy being used because it makes them feel important or needed, if only for that moment.”

Now see, Doormat, Nice and Kind are all separate ideas, definitions, etc. To me, my friend should have used kind to confuse with Doormat instead of nice. Why? Because reading through each definition of ‘kind’ seems to be more of an action or gesture than a personality trait. As well, the lines seem to have the ability to be more easily blurred. For example, my friend could have told herself, “I understand my son’s goal and should be more agreeable, considerate. By doing so, I am showing kindness.”

Did you see how I so easily blurred kind and doormat?

I blurred it because had I been my friend, I made the comment with no thought of my own needs, my own self, my own dignity. I allowed my son to push me beyond what I was comfortable and/or capable of giving and what I needed.

Nice or kind is the manner in which you accomplish a task, not how you prioritize a task. In other words, you don’t forgo the ‘No’. The ‘no’ is necessary. It’s when you need to say, no, you do it in a nice/kind manner.

To those who see themselves blurring these lines often, they may see the balance between the three trivial, but I don’t believe it is. Firstly, it affects how you interact or don’t interact with others. As a matter of fact, it defines your success in all relationships: romantic, friendships, even your professional relations. None of that is trivial. That’s your life!

For example, did I mention how I keep my first friend at a distance? Although she is fun to be with, hanging around her for too long gets to be too emotionally draining as I listen to her complain about how others take mistreat her, yet she refuses to simply say a firm No. I wonder how many other people avoid her for the same reason.

And my friend with the birth defect, his main desire in life is to have a spouse as well as deep, fulfilling friendships. Yet his perspective makes him try so hard to please others that he sacrifices his own self in doing so. And because of that he is perceived as someone who doesn’t know himself well.   He is perceived as unreliable and unable to take care of himself. Thus women don’t see him as strong, a leader, a caretaker, rather someone who needs to be lead and taken care of. Women are his friend but that’s about as far as it goes. At work, when leadership opportunities become available, he sits back waiting to be asked, because assertive isn’t ‘nice’, thus, losing out on promotions, etc.

This habit, this learned response, has to be recognized and eradicated. No one can live the life they fully want to live until they let go of that inner voice that tells them who they are and what they have to offer is less than what everyone else has to offer.

The balance for being kind, being nice, doing for others is doing it without completely losing yourself.   I had a friend who was a therapist tell me once, if you can give without expecting anything back and without resentment, than you are giving. If you are giving because you are expecting something back, a favor, the kindness returned, their good will, etc. and if you know if you don’t get something back that you will be resentful, then you need to listen to that and know its okay and even important to have the courage to say “No, I will not do that.

Example, there is one piece of chocolate cake left, you grab it. This cake isn’t just any random cake, this is your cake. You bought the ingredients, you made it and now you would like to enjoy it. You sit down to begin eating when another person decides they want it too. They whine and complain, degrade you, tell you your selfish because you won’t give them the last piece of cake. Do you give in? Let’s go back to what my friend suggested. If you can do it without resentment now or later, then okay letting the other person have the cake is up to you. However, I don’t imagine you would have began eating the cake if you didn’t want it.

But then you begin to doubt yourself. You put more priority on their words then your own. Are their words true? Are you selfish because you aren’t giving up what you wanted, when they have no more claim to it than you do? No, probably not, but then that voice says, “but I’m nice and that ‘s what nice people do, so if I’m not giving in then I must not be nice. So you give up the cake.

Whoa. Again with the doormat/nice definitions blurring. Not sharing your last slice does not make you selfish, it doesn’t make you a bad person. You know this yet you defer to their opinion. Why? Why do their words have more meaning to you than your own? Why do you automatically take their words for truth and deny your own truth? Why are you giving more value to someone else then yourself? And why is it so important that you define yourself and predicate your worth with only one word, ‘nice’? There are more things you can define yourself as, such as: funny, organized, prompt, assertive, confident, athletic, talented, creative, intelligent…you could go on and on. Yet you stay and limit yourself to, ‘nice’. Why?

I was flipping through the channels one evening. It landed on an interview with one of the General Authorities. The journalist re-read a quote the General Authority had said many years ago. It was not a politically correct statement. The General Authority at first laughed nervously, “Did I say that?”

The journalist didn’t respond. Then the General Authority pulled himself up, cleared his throat and firmly replied, “Well, if that’s what I said, then that’s what I said. I stand by it.”


Not because he said something others didn’t like and refused to apologize. Well, sort of.

I mean it wasn’t because he said something others didn’t like, it was because he stood by what he said, and not out of arrogance, stubbornness or pride. It was because he believed what he said was right and wasn’t going to doubt himself just because others didn’t like it and pushed against him. He trusted and believed in himself.

Had he been a doormat of course he would have apologized /back pedaled immediately. Because, as a doormat he would have understood that pleasing others was more important than staying true to himself. Why does a doormat do that?   I believe someone significant and with great authority in his life, through actions as well as words told him time after time that his opinions/ideas/decisions/feelings weren’t valid. In order to get along, to have approved love and acceptance, he should be agreeable despite his own convictions. And when he did those things, gave up himself, he was rewarded with approval.

I’m not saying we should NEVER apologize or compromise. We should always be humble enough to apologize, see our part in a misunderstanding.   Because of course there are going to be times when we are wrong or have thrown out a thoughtless word or comment.   We all put our foot in it at times.   I’m simply saying that if every fiber of your being believes in what you are saying, doing and if it is kindly said, then trust yourself, be loyal to yourself, value yourself, and stand up for you as well as behind you.

I think of this General Authority outside of church, at work, for instance. Accomplishing his tasks in such a way that he is being true to himself, thereby unswayed by others potentially negative attitudes, desires etc. What must his superiors think? Believing in yourself and following through in those beliefs is a leadership quality. Who do you think is going to get that promotion?

At home, do you think his kids are going to push him, test him? Probably once or twice or until they learn he stands behind what he says, then that will be that. Will they look to him as an admirable, strong father figure? Duh. Will it be a peaceful organized home? Yep. Will his spouse look to him as a strong father figure, trust him, proud to be with a man she can always rely on? Of Course…unless she’s a total mess.

I pondered for some time as to how this man reacted to an uncomfortable situation with confidence and conviction. It made me wonder how I would have reacted. Actually, I knew how I would have reacted. So I decided to use it t to make a much needed change within me.

Now when I say things to others which don’t seem to go over well, instead of questioning myself, and analyzing myself until I’m twisted into knots and end up apologizing even though I shouldn’t, I say to myself, “If that’s what I said then I stand by it, because I know I wouldn’t have said it unless I believed it. And I wouldn’t have believed it unless I had studied it and it had been proven time and time again. I believe in my own intelligence, I believe in my own wisdom and experience. If that’s what I said then I stand by it and I’m going to leave it alone. And you know the interesting thing is that since there is no more self-doubting, there is more confidence. As well, I find I no longer have such a high tolerance for being treated less than I deserve. And since I don’t tolerate it, my self-esteem has greatly improved. Apologizing for every little thing is not treating myself as I deserve. I do, however, for kindness sake, always try to choose my words carefully, as I want the person to know that what I am saying is mindful of them.

I’d like to tell you about a third friend, she has a genuine concern for others. She always thinks the best of others. She never says negative things about anyone. Yet she has very clear boundaries. If you cross those boundaries, she will discuss it, gently explain that you have crossed her boundaries. She will call you out every time. Because of that, she’s a little intimidating. People call her tough. Yet I have discovered her to be the very epitome of kindness, niceness. She is the balance. And she is one of the most amazing people I’ve ever met.

So, do be kind and even nice to others but don’t lose yourself in the word by forgetting to be kind and nice to yourself as well.

I am nobody's doormat



Choosing Kindness


My children, in an out of state college, left me with a lot of empty time on my hands. Time to do those things I had always wanted to do, time to contemplate, time to look back as well as forward.

I decided I would greet this new place by doing those things I’ve always wanted to do.  Among other things, I would find that enigmatic thing called “kindness.”

“What?” you may be saying.  “Of all things you could choose to do, why are you choosing such a quiet, uneventful thing?  It’s not exciting, it’s not physical, and you won’t come home after a month of being out on the road of kindness with pictures and fantastic memories or stories. ”  So why did I choose it?

I chose it because I finally had the energy, desire, time, wisdom and ability (maturity) to contemplate my own growth.  I was not going to waste it.  So that’s all true but there’s more.

Did I mention how many relationships I have pushed away because of my unkindness?  My first experience, I recall, was in kindergarten.  I remember being bossy and pushy, telling everybody what to do.  Pretty soon I found myself standing alone.  No one would play with me.  It continued on in that manner.  Words would come out of my mouth and suddenly, I’m standing alone.

I never understood why either.  I knew I always meant well.  I knew I had a kind heart and sincerely cared about others.  So why were my words always being misunderstood as harsh?  Why was my honesty and bluntness unkind?  Didn’t they know I was only saying those things to help them?  Mentally, did you just say, “Ohhhh, I see” ?

So now, do you understand why its so important?  I was tired of being that person no one ever accused of being, ‘kind’.   It was time for a change.  This was my opportunity to finally own what I was doing to myself and others and then figure out how to change it.  After all, as my friend Mary says, “All life is about relationships.”

It’s true.  I know this small word is so powerful that it affects and reflects upon every aspect of our relationships, be it a simple passerby to a more deeply held relationship such as family and other loved ones.  Try to name one thing you have accomplished without interacting with anyone else, without relying on someone else, even if only slightly.

As well,  what experiences stand out to you the most?  I’ll bet you’ll say, when those  you interacted with were exceptionally kind or when they were exceptionally unkind.

I have to admit, the thought of making a drastic change within myself was kind of scary.  Although maybe not as big as jumping from a plane would be….maybe.  I mean I was letting go of a part of me.  Would I get lost?

I think the hardest part was simply figuring out how to start.  Because how does one grasp onto that kindness within themselves, magnify it and then radiate it outwards?  How is it that some people are more prone to be described as kind then others.  What is it specifically that makes a person kind? I think everyone has their own definitions.  I came up with mine after intently observing my co-workers.

What I saw was that  kind people don’t go spewing their negative, gossipy, uninvited opinions all over.  In fact, I noticed that rarely did they say anything negative about anything.  So I kind of knew that all along, yet, in the past was never willing to admit it because frankly, that was going to take an awful lot of self-discipline.    But now, I was sure the work would be worth it.

ok, so the goal would be to not say unkind things about others.  you know, follow “The Golden Rule” – if you can’t say anything nice, don’t say anything at all.”  No gossiping and the super hard one, to see and express things with a positive perspective.

Was it easy?  NO! I mean how do you just stop being this person you’ve always been and suddenly become a different/better version?  How do you suddenly rid yourself of that snarky running monologue in your head that’s been there as long as you can remember?  How do you stop perceiving things around you as only you do?

There were so many times, especially at the beginning, when the pull to say something negative about a co-worker or a customer who was exceptionally obnoxious, arrogant, even smelly was so powerful, I was sure I would literally explode.  At other times, I had to actually run away from groups of friendly co-workers in the  middle of dissecting another co-worker behind their back.

It didn’t take long to realize even though I wasn’t verbalizing the snarkiness, I was still thinking it.  So there really wasn’t much change because, ‘we act upon what we think.’  Meaning, my negative thoughts caused me to perceive the situation in a negative way, which in turn showed through my face, my body language and projected outwards.  It wasn’t too hard to interpret by the person looking back at me what I was thinking.

I realized the trick to this change was not just merely holding my judgmental, critical comments in, rather I had to actually change my thoughts.  To do that, the golden rule needed to be tweeked.  I was going to have to add the word, “think” to the phrase, i.e. :  if you can’t say or think anything nice, don’t say or think anything at all.

I had two different methods to do this, depending upon the situation.  The first, was to distract myself whenever a negative thought popped in.  A phrase I remember from a movie I had seen kept coming back to me.  The movie was, Point Of No Return.point of no return

Bridgett Fonda is an angry, murderous criminal because she reacts to upsetting situations with her fists.  Anne Bancroft, who like a brilliant diamond, is perfectly polished, although just as hard.  She is Bridgett’s …etiquette coach.  Anne is trying to teach Bridgett to respond to an upsetting situations with poised control.  She demonstrates by forming a fake smile and saying, “I never did mind about the little things.”  (You have to say that with your head tilted and your hand lifted gently and twirling ever so casually.)

When the temptation to be my old self reared up, when I had found fault in a co-worker, a customer etc., I would say that to myself.  And yes, in my head my hand was casually twirling around.  For example, if one of my co-workers had come in with an extremely ugly tie, the thought would light upon me, “That is the ugliest tie I have ever seen.”  If I didn’t squelch that thought quickly, I stress ‘quickly’ because the longer I let it stay, the harder it was to get rid of and the more it built upon itself.  For example: “What was he thinking? Man, that guy has the worst taste.  Seriously, what was his wife thinking by letting him go out with that tie?  Well, she let him, she must have just as bad taste as he does…”  and so on.  Next I would go find a friendly co-worker, “Hey did you see so and so’s tie? What is with that ugly tie?”  And then we would laugh about it for a minute or two.

The problem is what’s coming next; the co-worker from around the corner.  He hears it and now guess who  is the schmuck, has created an awkward situation, offended and, once again, cooled off a potential great friendship?

So instead of going through all that, in my head, I would put on that menacing forced smile and say, “I never did mind about the little things.”  It instantly put things into perspective, meaning:  his ugly tie wasn’t really that big of a deal and certainly didn’t affect me in anyway.  So why was I so concerted about it?

At first, I had to say that ‘a lot”.  In fact, at times repetitively.  Sometimes I could move on from there.  But if I couldn’t let it go, then I would go into my second chosen method – to focus on something else.  I think this second step is important because you can’t just stop thinking of something, you have to replace the thought with something else.  Try it.  Have you ever tried to just stop thinking about something without first replacing the thought?  It’s tough.

I took care of this by choosing to think of something positive about the guy with the ugly tie.  I chose to focus on my co-worker’s positive attributes, such as how kind, funny or successful he was with customers, or how great his sense of self must be to have the confidence to wear an ugly tie and not care what others thought.  Thinking of those things made the ugly tie insignificant and again, because we act upon our thoughts, it caused me to appreciate the co-worker even more.

In this scenario, had my co-worker stepped out from around the corner while my friend and I were talking, he would have heard me talking about what a great person he was instead of his ugly tie.  So much better, don’t you think?  I mean, who doesn’t like to be around people that appreciate you?

I don’t remember how long it took to make the change a habit.  Because I was always mindful of the goal, I didn’t really recognize it had become a part of me until many, many months later.  Even now, I remember that moment.  I remember standing by myself at work, waiting for a customer when the thought suddenly came to me that I felt different.  ( Side note: it didn’t matter that it was almost a year because this was a ‘rest of your life’ change not a ‘losing 10 pounds’ or ‘until the change occurs,’ change. )

I realized my head was calmer.  I was calmer.  I wasn’t expending all that energy thinking about what everyone else was doing,  if they were doing things right, etc.  Instead, I felt free, light…happy.  I had energy to focus on me and my own goals and accomplishments.  I was smiling more and laughing more, which in turn, made those around me smile more and laugh more.

My fears of losing a part of me, I discovered , were all in vain.  That snarky running monologue was gone, but I didn’t disappear into oblivion.  In fact, I didn’t lose myself at all.  I just…tweeked myself.  I really liked it.  I liked me.

Although my desire was seemingly small and insignificant: huge were the consequences.  For example, I had permanently altered how I looked at things around me.  I realized when I made the habit of finding what was good about people, I began to do the same to myself.  When I stopped judging and critiquing others, I stopped judging and critiquing me.  I began to feel more confident in myself.  I began caring less and less about what others thought of me.  Instead, I began focusing on what I could do, instead of what I couldn’t do.  What I had to offer instead of what I lacked.

It was a while after that on a very slow day at work, that a very good friend off-handedly said to me, “I probably shouldn’t say this because I know you don’t talk  about other people, but…”.  OK, did you just hear my squeal of excitement?  It was a casual, simple comment, but it meant the world to me.  In my head, I cheered.   After all, I had worked hard to hear that!