Lacey Smith

The Insidious Culture of “Nice”

In Current Events, Politics on December 11, 2012 at 12:00 pm

Over the weekend, I offered to do something for someone. Totally surprised by it, she told me “That’s so nice of you.” Hours (and even days) later I was still annoyed by that statement. I spend the rest of the weekend trying to figure out why.

Turns out, I really dislike being called nice. I am not a nice person. The offer I made was not to be nice. I offered because I wanted to do it and because it would make my life easier in the long run.

The more I thought about it, the more it occurred to me that “nice” is highly overrated in our culture. In fact, it’s killing our country.

We have an expectation that everyone should be nice. We don’t discuss politics, religion or other controversial topics in polite company. When someone asks “How are you?” it’s a pleasantry, not a genuine inquiry. We teach our children to respect adults and authority, even if they are completely undeserving of such.

Teachers regularly pass children from grade to grade even though they don’t have the skills needed to move on; people successfully sue others for the removal of material they find offensive; citizens clamor for politicians to “compromise” and “reach across the aisle” even when that means throwing values and long-term good out the window.

Sure, it looks great: a society where everyone works together, children are practically perfect, no one causes offense and we all go about our merry way.

However, the only way that that happens is if freedom is undermined and people are harmed. It is an impossible ideal. And it’s not good for us.

The only way for freedom to endure is if we quit worrying about being nice or politically correct. We have to have uncomfortable conversations. We may have to endure offensive material (and realize that just because it’s offensive to us doesn’t necessarily make it bad). We have to be willing to disagree with people.

Children (and adults) have to have consequences. We have to be honest even if it’s unpleasant sometimes. Nice cannot be the ideal.

I’m not saying that we shouldn’t be kind or use our manners or be thoughtful and sensitive toward others. We absolutely should be those things. We just cannot let them get in the way of reality or growth. We cannot be so afraid of something not being nice that it shuts down anything that is unpleasant but positive.

I don’t aspire to be a nice person. I think nice should be a four-letter word. I do want to be kind and thoughtful, respectful of those who deserve it and not intentionally offensive. But nice denotes something insidious to me: a desire to make other people feel good (or at least not feel bad) at all costs.

Culturally it is often expected of us to be nice and maintain “niceness”. It’s bad for us and bad for freedom.

It’s time to throw nice out the window.

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