valentine'sI remember one Valentine’s Day afternoon when my younger daughter was sick. She was running a fever and we were out of medicine, so I made a quick trip to my local Walgreens. The second I walked in the door I noticed something: I was outnumbered. The store was filled with (mostly) men crowding the card aisle and grabbing last minute candy, balloons, and assorted heart-shaped trinkets.

Now, I don’t mean to be stereotypical because goodness knows I’m the queen of last-minute shopping. (See: any given December 24 where you’ll most likely find me frantically storming the toy aisle of the local Wal-Mart). But this drug store scene struck me as funny. All I could think about was the lucky person on the receiving end of these treasures.

There’s nothing wrong with any of these gifts, of course. But I wondered whether these Valentine’s gifts were purchased with some advance thought about the person to whom the gift would be given? Or would they purchased because convention (and let’s face it, the greeting card industry) tells us we’re supposed to give our loved ones a heart-shaped token of our love and affection?

To me, it boils down to the difference between being nice and being kind. Being nice means you follow the rules. And boy was I big rule follower in school. Say please and thank you. Use your inside voice. Do your homework. Be nice to your kid sister. Being nice is something we’re told to say or do. It’s prescriptive and … well … nice. We need rules and manners and there’s nothing wrong with that.

But being kind? That’s something different. Maybe there’s a sense of maturity to it as well. I think kindness has its roots in niceness, but it requires a little something extra. Niceness is people doing and saying what they’re told. But kindness isn’t a reflection of some sort of conventional norm. It’s more a reflection of who we are. I don’t mean to get all deep and philosophical here, but kindness seems like it’s a more authentic expression of who we are on the inside. No external instructions – just a feeling we get that compels us to do what’s in our heart.

When we say or do things from the heart it just feels different. It feels less obligatory and more natural. Less scripted. More intuitive.

I like to think the people who were last-minute Valentine’s shopping in Walgreens that day were doing so out of love (kindness) rather than obligation (niceness), but who knows.

What I do know is that in addition to the fever medication, I also picked up a stuffed animal puppy dog holding a heart and some glitter stickers for my daughter. No one told me to do it. I just had a feeling they would make her smile.