Nice. It’s a loaded word these days, probably always has been. It’s always been an aspirational word. I’ve said it to my kids a million times. But what I’ve noticed is that when telling them to be nice what I’m mainly saying is to bend and mold, also very often to limit themselves and more often than not to compromise themselves. It was never more obvious than during the dreaded playgroup era of parenting.
It seems crazy that Gymboree could be such a fountainhead of behavioral science but it is. What makes us, the moms, feel better is that almost all of us are subjecting our kids to the same ‘me second you first think’. But there’s always one mom in the group who isn’t, maybe two. This mom is unapologetically letting the little tyrant run rough shod over the whole of the situation, and the group preoccupied with being nice, really more so with being conceived as nice, is huddled in the corner crying as that tyrant kid plays exactly how they want and gets ahead in relation to toddler aspirations.
We the sanctimonious pride ourselves that at least our little angels didn’t behave like that. But in the end the little tyrant won the game, so to speak, and will continue to and will become savvier about playing it and others will see that this is how to win the game and they will also leave the ‘nice’ island. They will all learn to use ‘nice’ against those still aspiring to it. They will understand how narcotic the want for that image is and use it to continue to keep the nice in their place while they, the tyrants, flourish in success.
I’d say women are particularly good at this insidious type of preying but all of my industries have been male dominated and men are no better. For some it is a natural skill, for others learned, for all it’s become a survival of the fittest topography that is rewarded right up to the top.
The problem is nice has many meanings, good meanings that we should employ like subtle, precise, accurate, enjoyable, but unfortunately the meaning that gets taken for ‘nice’ the most often is agreeable, or better said compliant. Maybe we need to commandeer the word away from the calculating. When we say we are nice or seek out nice what we really should mean is – we are compassionate with out being cloying, we are considerate without being doormats, we are confident without being douchebags, we are nice without being tractable.
Some of this comes at a price where the image of ‘nice’ may not always be what shines through. Occasionally, strong willed or poised or other empowering words that the nice have been told they should not aspire to may be what the world sees. That’s ok. That’s better than ok. The discomfort that comes with this new outlook will be far outweighed by the benefits.
A lot of good could come from this shift. A lot of power would be swept away from those who would control and maybe a new narrative, a nicer narrative might take over the landscape and open an unexpected avenue of interaction, one of mutual respect. And wouldn’t that be nice?