A news report recently identified interesting results. A large number of college students (2,700) from five countries—three from Western cultures and two from Eastern cultures—took a common survey. The content of the survey forced the students to narrow down which characteristics they considered most important as they chose a lifetime mate. The survey took a progressive approach that resulted in a ranking.

As one might expect, there were some reasonable variations related to gender and culture. Topics considered included such items as physical attractiveness, financial stability, humor, interest in having children, religiosity, and several others.

The lead author reports, however, that across cultures and genders the most clearly identified desired trait was kindness. Students were looking for kindness in a prospective mate. I found this good news.

This is not a kind time in the world. Every generation can identify dark aspects of its era, but this is our era now, and it appears uncomfortably dark to me. It is refreshing to see this report indicate that at least some young people are optimistic and focused on positives.

It is noteworthy that the survey identified kindness rather than niceness. These two words are sometimes used interchangeably, but potentially inappropriately. They do not necessarily describe the same situation, although there is some overlap.

When we speak about someone being “nice,” we might be making a temporary judgment, perhaps based on only a short encounter. We might even say, “She seems nice.” To identify someone as “kind” requires more observation and relationship. If a student describes an instructor as “nice” rather than “kind,” the student may be describing something different.

Kindness seems to demand more than niceness does. Kindness demands telling the truth, for instance. There are bumps in every relationship and negotiation with kindness is necessary to maintain the relationship. Simply being nice might not deal clearly with that bump and it could still exist in the background.

Kindness might demand acting on someone’s behalf, even if there is some resulting spinoff conflict. Protesting some inequality could illustrate kindness but could also yield reprisals. When Rosa Parks refused to give up her seat on the bus in Birmingham, Alabama, it was a profound act of kindness; it resulted in her arrest and, at the same time, added an important spark to the American Civil Rights movement. Recent individuals going to the United States southern border to protest treatment of immigrants demonstrates kindness and results in various types of pushback. Kindness might not be consequence-free; it might result in getting dirty or wounded.

Scripture says little about being nice; it says a great deal about being kind. In the passage about not letting the sun go down on your anger, it concludes by imploring us to be kind to one another. Indeed, the great description of love in I Corinthians 13 says that love is patient and kind. As we look at Jesus’ life, we see him going around and dealing in kindness with people. He was not nice in the eyes of many. He was also not safe. However, he understood nuances of kindness and was not limited to even a human form of kindness, but dealt with heavenly kindness and all of its consequences.

Jim Nichols is a retired Abilene Christian University biology professor and current medical chaplain. 

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