The Insidious Nature of ‘Nice’

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Growing up, I was your quintessential ‘nice girl.’ Teachers liked me. My parents trusted me. The mere thought of detention was enough to give me a panic attack. I smiled at people in the halls, served in student council, and mediated disputes between friends. My idea of trouble was sneaking a single wine spritzer from the garage on New Year’s Eve senior year and promptly blaming it on my sister. You get the idea…

For a long time, I derived a lot of my self-worth from that descriptor: ‘nice girl.’ And it wasn’t until I had a daughter of my own that I began to understand how truly sad that is.

That doesn’t mean, of course, that I have since thrown decency and decorum out the window—far from it. What it does mean is that I have come to realize how much value I ascribe to others’ opinions of me, and the many ways in which it has held me back from my true self.

When you’re a ‘nice girl,’ you don’t want to rock the boat; you hate confrontation; you are a born people pleaser. So it’s been hard taking those first tentative steps toward finding my voice and summoning the courage to make it public. But I have reached a point where it no longer feels optional. My kids need to know what it means to stand for something and I intend to be their teacher.

So I write.

I write about anything and everything that moves me. I write to be a voice for those unable or not yet ready to use their own. But I always write sincerely, with the intent of furthering an idea, a cause, or fractured dialogue. And, yes, sometimes—in fact, oftentimes—that includes writing about politics.

Trust me, I fully understand that a large percentage of the population has an aversion to it. Our elected officials, on the whole, make it pretty easy. And it’s hard to escape the pervasive belief that political opinions ought not to be shared. But I think there’s a danger in keeping silent about policies that change the fabric of our country; and I think we do a disservice to our children by modeling apathy and actively ignoring intellectual conversation. It’s okay to disagree. Our kids need to understand that.

And yet, I’ve noticed a disturbing trend lately. As it becomes ever more clear that our country is heading into turbulent times, as the average citizen feels more of a pull to weigh in on matters of state, there are those waiting in the wings to casually dismiss such commentary with empty platitudes.

Be nice, they plead.

Can’t we all just get along? 

I love everybody. Just agree to disagree.

If something doesn’t affect you, leave it alone.

Nice people of the world: I see you. I know your hearts are in the right place. But the world is not always as nice as you are. Bad things happen. Cultural turbulence and political unrest don’t bow down to adorable pictures of kittens and puppies. I mean, we all love them and thanks for reminding us of the good in the world, but don’t dismiss the voices you hear—from either side. Your reminders to be kind and compassionate are helpful and needed, but assuming passivity is the path to those ends is a dangerous mistake.

Listen, playing the referee and toeing the line is exhausting. I know; I did it for years. Just understand that it’s okay to allow yourself to be drawn into serious topics because they speak to your values and your vision for the future. You can be both polite and passionate. Your opinions matter. Your words matter. You matter.

So stop being ashamed that you are a fully functioning human with valid opinions. Don’t preface that lone partisan post with any variation of, “I promise, this is the only thing I’ll say about politics.” Just don’t. Stop. It is not your responsibility to make everyone happy.

And you know what? You’re still a good person, even when you shed the ‘nice girl’ image. I promise.

But, in the future, try not to worry so much about it. There’s something insidious about that word: ‘nice.’ It’s not always enough to be agreeable and pleasant. In fact, it’s not always appropriate to be those things.

‘Nice’ implies deference. It demands the quiet acceptance of completely unacceptable things. ‘Nice’ requires your silence so as not to ruffle feathers, to honor hazy rules of decorum. ‘Nice’ says, “honor congeniality above all else, principles and passions be damned.”

‘Nice,’ it turns out, is not very nice at all.

What you can be? Empathetic, respectful, informed, brave, and even outspoken—every day, without apology. Because when ‘nice’ demands your silence or shames you from civic-mindedness, it’s no longer a flattering descriptor.

These days, I’m not sure others would still describe me as a ‘nice girl.’ But these days, I grab my own damn wine spritzers whenever I want. Things change. You can, too.

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4 thoughts on “The Insidious Nature of ‘Nice’

  1. Amazing article. Very well written. Gripped me from the start to the end. I was also called ‘nice’ once but I realized that ‘nice’ stands in my way of being heard, of being taken seriously. It was very easy for people to ignore me back when I was ‘nice’. Now, like you said, I haven’t thrown my decency out the window but I’ve learned to stand up for what I believe and to voice my opinions without fear. I completely agree with you about more of us talking about politics. Keep up the great work. 🙂

    Like

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