Funny how that word is used. Nowdays, one would be forgiven for thinking that it is verbal punctuation – an affirmative exclamation by a listener to the account of a positive development, shorthand for “good for you!”. When understood as a noun it seems – even worse – to have become a synonym for wimpiness.
Used to be that it was a good thing to be nice.
Back in the day, it went without saying that there was a need for a change if word was that a some girl was ”not nice”. Indeed, if all went well, little girls were supposed to grow up to be ‘a nice girl’. Parents prayed for their daughters to meet “a nice young man” – and which Prince Charming-in-training does not have a memory of Mom snapping “be nice’ when boisterous play somehow become aggressive ?
I remember striving earnestly to be a nice person at a time when the virtue of being nice was a no-brainer. Ask most people back then, and they would have told you that a nice person was someone who was not mean but kind, someone who was friendly and who sincerely cared about others. A person who cared enough to go out of their way to help others. I took it for granted – as most people did – that everyone – if there was nothing wrong with them – wanted to be like that.
And so, I grew up – a nice girl – who strove to be nice, who expected everyone to be nice back. And she lived nicely, happily ever after………..
….. (screech of rudely interrupted soundtrack of contented ambiance) Or maybe not.
What was that about people being nice in return? Was that part of the deal? If it was, then something went badly awry in my little reverie…..
From the starting injunction to ‘be nice’, it became my expectation – somewhere along the way – that people would be nice to me, if I was nice to them. And it didn’t stop there. One day I realized that I was putting all this energy into being nice because I wanted people to be nice back to me. In other words, rather than an expectation, it had become the motivation, With hindsight, that rider snuck in completely unnoticed.
By this point however, I was suspicious that neither expectation nor motivation was based on a sound premise. Though it took many years, life worked hard to teach me that many people are in fact not nice. My experience was that it is not hard to find people who have no desire whatsoever to be nice. Though I was a slow learner in this regard, I finally grasped that, the fact that I was ‘nice’ to someone did not – not by a long way – mean that they would be nice back to me.
It was at that juncture that I finally began to question the whole ‘niceness’ thing. Who said I should be nice? Why was this important – if at all? Sure, my parents had told me to be nice, but looking beyond that, why? Was this a social more I could disregard now that I was all grown up and my own person? I mean, if they were inspired merely by social mores, perhaps it was optional.
I didn’t have to probe much more deeply however, before I remembered the ‘golden rule’: do unto others as you would have them do unto you. A prominent social more, the source of that injunction is in fact the words of Jesus from His Sermon on the Mount.
Well, if my Lord Jesus said it, that’s good enough for me! But perhaps you want us to press on just a little further.
Yes, Lord Jesus said to treat others as you would want them to treat you (and it goes without saying that this applies to normal persons, not masochists or other persons whose expectations are abnormal; not that the bible does not apply to everyone, masochists and all, but having twisted desires does not excuse treating others according to dictates of those desires), but, did He say why we should?
It seems to me that there is something calculating – even manipulative – about being ‘nice’ to people, if I do this only because I want them to be nice to me. An inauthentic, insincere charade surely? Not nice at all – when you dissect it closely – in fact it is behavior that one who would model him/herself after the person of Christ aka a christian should not want to engage in.
And that is the point. The reason we are to behave in this way is not to get anything back, but to emulate our Lord God who is supposed to be the guiding light of our lives. We are supposed to be sincere, unselfish, gladly looking to the interests of others instead of just our own. Compassionate, kind, humble, gentle and patient. Now, that’s a good thing.
All this, and we get to be unselfish and avoid drawing attention to our acts of kindness too??
Even harder than I thought….and put it this way – it doesn’t sound like a cop out for the spineless to me!
It’s not easy being nice – but we are to be. Nice!
(originally posted 07/08/2014; 869 words)