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Don’t Be Nice – Be Kind

I’m spending some time this weekend paring down the paperwork in my/NCDD’s filing cabinets and reorganizing my “system.”  I came across a print-out of a great little Commentary from the Summer 2008 issue of YES! Magazine that I found extremely timely, practical, and simple.  It’s still accessible on the YES site at this link.

In the commentary “Don’t Be Nice – Be Kind,” Akaya Windwood talks about how a simple ground rule can transform a contentious public meeting.

The piece begins…

I recently facilitated a community meeting organized to address a spate of violence in a neighborhood here in Oakland, California. Roughly 200 people showed up—young people from the streets, grandmothers, school teachers, community activists, neighbors, and politicians. The gathering crossed lines of class, ethnicity, religion, gender, and race. There were many emotions in the room: grief, fear, hope, hopelessness, skepticism, sadness, and even some optimism.

As we began the meeting, I asked people to agree to be kind rather than nice. Truthfully, I was a bit hesitant to ask for this agreement, thinking that people would interpret it to mean that they couldn’t say what they needed to say or express “negative” feelings such as anger, outrage, or distress. I took the risk of asking for the agreement anyway, and was met with a big “yes” from the group. Everyone was tired of the old pattern of blaming and shaming, of finding fault with one another, and we needed a way to say difficult things without feeling hobbled by politeness.

Niceness is often filled with falseness—it is a way to not tell the truth, or to obscure it. “Be nice!” is something many of us heard as children as a way of avoiding upsetting someone. While niceness might be a strategy that gets us through an immediate situation, it is not effective in the long run as a way to come together to solve the myriad difficulties facing our communities, both local and global.

It is crucial that we hold ourselves and each other accountable, and we can do this with hearts of kindness. This often takes a lot of courage. Kindness allows us to say the hardest of things while preserving the dignity of those around us. It allows us to take the big risk of letting people know what is on our minds in a way that is unclouded and respectful. It is an action of the heart.

The folks at the meeting were engaged, vibrant, upset, and had a lot to say, but kindness ran through it all, like a river of balm and steadiness. I was particularly touched by the father who, having recently lost a son to police violence, spoke of the need to come together as one community, to acknowledge each other, remembering our commonness, our collective humanity. He was angry and so very kind, even as he held each of us accountable for the overt and subtle ways in which we all participate in violence.

Read the full commentary on the YES! website here.

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Sandy Heierbacher
Sandy Heierbacher co-founded the National Coalition for Dialogue & Deliberation (NCDD) with Andy Fluke in 2002, with the 60 volunteers and 50 organizations who worked together to plan NCDD’s first national conference. She served as NCDD's Executive Director between 2002 and 2018. Click here for a list of articles and resources authored by Sandy.

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