Monday, August 11, 2014

Be Nice. No, Seriously: BE NICE.

   "Did you know 'nice' used to mean 'stupid?'"
   "God doesn't call us to be nice."
    "Jesus wasn't being nice when he overturned tables in the temple."
   Being nice obviously gets a bad rap, in both religious and secular circles, but frankly? I don't think it's entirely fair.
    The American English Oxford Dictionary defines "nice" as "pleasant, agreeable, good natured, kind."

    How absolutely awful.
    Okay, okay. Ahem. There are certainly times when acting pleasant, agreeable, good natured, or kind certainly doesn't seem helpful. After all, the world around us - scarred by wars and disease and death - isn't nice.
    But those things should not be. Saying that we shouldn't be nice because not-nice things happen isn't logically sound. If not-nice things happen, and they suck, that's exactly why we should be nice.
    However, it's damn easy to say "be nice" when you're talking in abstractions. When you delve into specifics, it's quite hard.
    Conform to superficial social graces.
    Pretend our family's perfect.
    Don't call out abuse.
    Ick. How frightening.
    But wait a second - are we really talking "nice" here, or are we confusing "nice" to mean something that's pleasant and agreeable to a specific group of people who are oppressing someone else? Are we confusing "nice" with obligations to perform and conform and ignore?
    Because there are always people on the receiving end of being not nice.
    There's the abuse victim. There's the moneychanger's cheaters clients. There's someone stifled and dying beneath expectations they weren't made to fulfill. These are people for whom being agreeable or pleasant or kind might involve you helping to stop their oppression.
    Is it nice to allow your imperfections to grow until they seriously damage either yourself or someone else? Is it nice to fit into a superficial society's image? Is it nice to let abuse continue?
    If someone is oppressing another person, they're not being nice. Isn't it actually nice to call them out on it, so 1) their victim is freed, and 2) perhaps they have the opportunity to learn, as well?
    Maybe what we really have to look at the difference between perception and being. For instance, helping the abused might not be perceived as nice to the abuser. But you're sure being nice to someone else. Perceptions can change; being doesn't.
   Moreover, the claim "we don't have to be nice" is often used as an excuse for 1) being a jerk, or b) dismissing others. For an example of b, I've often heard: well, they're gay or they don't believe the earth is 6000 years old, so it doesn't matter if they are nice: they're drifting from God. But since the definition of nice holds a Fruit of the Spirit (kindness), I must disagree.
    Niceness isn't everything, obviously. But I do think nice matters.
    Thoughts? Am I overlooking something here?


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