It happened again recently. A grown man, an internet acquaintance, told me I wasn't being very nice. I couldn't see his face or hear the tone behind his written words, but what popped into my head was a little kid saying, "Teacher! Teacher! Marsha is being mean to me!"
push-back followed an email from another man apologizing for letting me
see that he was offended by something I had said. It was the first I
knew of the offense. I knew he didn't respond positively to a statement
I made that contradicted something he had said, and I knew he left the
scene shortly after, but the time gap was sufficient that I didn't make
Two offenses in one day! It left me wondering: Am I not a nice person? And that question led to another question: Do I want to be a nice person?
When set against such qualities as authentic, discerning, thoughtful,
honest, transparent, loving, gentle, kind, good, and patient, where
would I rank "nice" on my list of priorities? Which of those virtues
are part and parcel of "nice"?
I encountered someone
new at the public library where I work this week. He offered to do a
favor for a staff member and then, with a self-deprecating chuckle,
said, "I'm really a mean person." And my "fraud alarm" went off. Too
much surface niceness, it said. Watch out for this guy. People who put
their niceness on display make me nervous. I wonder what lies behind
Can I be discerning and committed to honesty and
consistently nice all at the same time? I don't think a commitment to
honesty requires one to make unkind comments to or about others, but it
might make one less than syrupy sweet when discussing areas where there
are different views among the group. That was the case in both of my
offenses this week. My opinion differed from that of the men who found
me less than nice and they were offended by the way I expressed that
opinion. Apparently, nice people don't push back against their
statements the way I did.
So what do nice people
do when they don't agree with what is being said? Do they keep their
thoughts to themselves? Do they have skills I lack for expressing their
disagreement in a way that doesn't stir up defensiveness? Are the
nicest people those who let others do the hard work of thinking and
debating issues while they simply smile and focus on puppies and cookie
Is "nice" in conversation the equivalent to
"bland" in food? I realize that's my view of people who are nice in
every situation. No salt. No backbone. No iron sharpening iron. Dull
and bland. Or worse, fake; wearing a mask of niceness to lull others into thinking they are wonderful.
And yet ... I spend almost all my time
being a nice person. Polite society depends on nice people being nice
to each other, and even to not-so-nice people. I get a lot of practice
in the art of being nice to obnoxious people at the public library. How
is it that I, with all my developed skills, managed to offend two grown
men in one day by countering their thoughts with my own in ways they
found offensive? Do I need to be a nicer person or do they need to make
more space for me to freely express my viewpoint without taking
offense? If the answer is more niceness needed on my part, how do I get
there while valuing authenticity in my relationships and without
sacrificing independent thinking?
One more thing to ponder.