By Ellen Sturm Niz
March 20, 2015
girls playing together

As parents, we want our kids to be healthy, happy, smart, kind, strong, attractive, popular, funny, talented, and the list goes on and on. And on. But what if we were forced to choose some of these qualities over others? Or just one? What would you choose?

A recent survey found that two-fifths of British parents would prefer their children be popular than clever because it will be more beneficial to them when they grow up. Why? Because being a "people person" is a more important skill to have and you don't need much of what you learn in school later in life, the parents surveyed said.

This reminds me of a conversation some of my friends had in college about whether we would rather people thought we were hot or nice. It was a pretty heated debate. It seems like being nice is obviously the "right" answer, but people can only really assess that when they get to know you, where hotness might be the factor that actually makes people want to get to know you in the first place. My moral compass says niceness is my answer, but there's a little insecure voice in my head that pipes up, "But hot, too!" I wish we didn't live in a world where looks mattered, but we do, and anyone who's ever received the "cute girl discount" knows it. Being attractive makes life easier for people. It helps make people popular, which helps them be confident, successful and happy. Or so the conventional thinking goes.

So when I think about what I want for my daughter, there are just a whole mess of conflicted thoughts and emotions. It's really hard to be unpopular and I wouldn't wish that on her. I want her to fit in and have great friends and never be bullied. But of course I want her to be smart, too! I value education and critical thinking and the ability of people to contribute their ideas to make the world a better place. And kindness, wow, my appreciation of kindness in others grows and grows every day, so I desperately want her to be kind.

So, hot or nice? I choose nice. Clever or popular? I choose clever. And I'm telling that insecure voice inside me to pipe down.

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Ellen Sturm Niz is a New York City-based editor and writer who thinks everyone should read George Saunders's graduation speech on why his greatest regrets are his failures of kindness and share its lessons with their children. Follow her on Twitter and Pinterest.

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