Being “nice” is such a praised quality. We are raised to be nice to others. When you bring your girlfriend home, what you really want to hear is “she’s nice!”
It’s literally the life’s highest priority for many people I know. It’s true. They told me.
I propose we stop teaching kids to be nice.
From very early on, we are taught “nice” is nice. It makes people around us happy. It makes us happy. Nice kids are invited to parties. Nice girls have friends. Nice boys get dates. Santa visits nice people. Nice is so nice!
I believe we must stop teaching kids to be nice.
What!? Why shouldn’t we teach our kids to be nice!?
Not the way I’m seeing around me.
Here is what I see. “Nice” is being taught and audited and exercised as a superficial quality.
A nice, polite person says please and thank-you without being truly courteous.
A nice, pleasant person has a smile on their face without being truly kind.
A nice, generous person brings an expensive bottle of wine to the host who doesn’t drink wine.
A nice friend is always positive and says nothing that hurts a friend while the friend keeps repeating self-destructive behaviour or thought processes.
As long as you have a smile on your face and giggle and offend no one, you’re “nice.”
The danger is when kids learn that “nice” is such a trump card.
I know this consultant who keeps giving extremely poorly-written programs to his clients. His clients defend him and spend their own personal time to fix the program.
I know this rec hockey player who broke a couple of wrists and handed out several concussions. Once she speaks a word or two, everyone comes to her support, even those that were injured at her violent hand. “But she’s so nice!”
Yes, “nice” makes people blind. It’s a trump card. And it’s easy to wear. Pull your lips to the side and say nothing.
Wow, the ability to get away with everything. I thought it was exclusive to the cute kids, the pretty girls, the rich, connected kids, the jocks. I can now have it. I just have to be nice.”
On top of that power of control kids could learn from early age, “Nice” is a mask the society teaches a child to wear. It is counter to cultivating a child’s sense of self. It is opposite of allowing kids to realize and get to know who they are.
Sure, but what’s wrong with it? “Nice” kids should be rewarded for being nice.
The problem is this: “Nice” offers no value. It only offers avoidance. And that avoidance looks like this. Haven’t we all experienced this?
When we have a smile on our faces, we are treated warmly. When we are sad, frowning, or upset, we are treated with distance and avoidance.
See, from very early on, we are taught “Nice” is expected. “Nice” is how we are allowed to play. “Nice” is a prerequisite for attending a birthday party.
We feel ok to exclude “not nice” kids from the birthday party. We feel ok to disregard friends who provide constructive criticism. We feel ok to demand our friends be always positive. We feel ok to tell people “Don’t be sad” “Don’t cry.” We secretly judge how long a friend’s been debilitated by her son’s passing. Maybe not so secretly, some might say “Well, it’s been years!”
We feel licensed to avoid anything that’s not “nice.”
Even though “Nice” – the way it’s exercised these days – is only a custom and not a genuine part of anyone’s authentic self. It’s not an expression of a personality. It’s a muscle movement, equivalent to shooting a puck.
“Nice” is only a custom and not a genuine part of anyone’s authentic self.
I have seen more people who suffer from the nice complex than people who suffer from narcotics addiction and body dysmorphia combined. Instead of desperately chasing being high or being thin, those people are desperate to be continuously perceived as “nice.” Everything else takes a back seat. Everything else gets sacrificed.
You know that bit I mentioned earlier? Just smiling and being “nice” and saying nothing while watching a friend spiral down into depression and into suicidality? That was a true story. (Hopefully unintentionally) A friend’s wellness is sacrificed for the sake of being “nice.”
Can you imagine, though. We all have an emotionally safe place, right. Can you imagine if that safe place was so easy to access as pulling lips to sides? And it provided safety all your life? Each time you meet someone new, you have a choice: Show them how nice you are, or show them who you are. Former having provided a safe harbour for 30 years, and the latter, a complete unknown, possibly causing to lose all of your friends. What would you pick?
It’s disconnecting. It’s addictive. It cultivates fear. It’s dangerous.
We need to stop teaching kids to be nice.
Kindness to invest their emotional energy and time into you.
Loyalty and trust to confront friends.
Confidence and trust to develop a thick skin.
Courage to be themselves.
Integrity to alienate when necessary.
Dr. Brene Brown’s power of vulnerability
George Saunders on kindness.