Two weeks ago, I saw a yard sign that read “Be Nice.” I let it go. Sort of. But then yesterday I saw it again on another lawn, and the rage that had started to simmer a few weeks ago, burst into full boil.
What’s the big deal you might be wondering? I mean come on, there are far worse things someone could post for all those driving by to see. Right? And I might agree. Except for one teeny, tiny problem.
I know better. More to the point, I have lived a great deal of my life under the oppressive rule of nice. As a woman, I know intimately the dark magic behind insisting that a girl be a “nice girl.” A deadly, suffocating and soul-sucking insistence that insinuates a kind of “be nice or else.” Or else what, you might ask?
You will be left, shamed, ostracized, attacked and ridiculed. Along the way you will be told that it is all your fault because you just didn’t behave nice enough. A deep-seated cultural, familial and relational “hidden curriculum” that makes it all but impossible to challenge what you are being conditioned to believe. Whether it is good for you, or not. Whether the request is valid, or not.
Because here’s the question that never gets asked inside the mind of that girl: “Nice” according to whom, and for what gain?
Talk to any woman who is willing to be honest with you, and she will tell you of the scars she still bears by being groomed in nice. She will tell you of the control and the manipulation that one little word inflicted on her life. She will tell you of how she turned against herself to stay nice in another’s eyes. Even when what they were insisting upon was harm-based. How she tolerated and allowed the worst of behaviors from another in order to keep anyone from thinking she wasn’t nice enough.
A moving target of being “nice” according to this person, then that person, and then that person… According to that system, that school, that community… An ever-vigilant effort on her part that she poured her very life force into to live up to what was being demanded of her. No matter the cost.
No matter that what she was being asked to live up to, was never right or true to begin with. How she would risk depression, anxiety, a loss of self-esteem, an obliteration of her truest Nature, an erosion of a kind and loving relationship with herself, a thwarting of her life-giving instincts and intuitions. All done to avoid the repercussions of being labeled not nice.
Being nice, when legislated by someone outside of you, is a form of slavery. It is a way to shut you up. A way to keep you quiet. A way to shame you into something that may not be in your best interests.
A way to keep you from questioning bad behavior from the powers that be. One little word with the power to keep you from being you and from questioning what is most decidedly, questionable.
I will not be nice if it means I must give over my life to something controlling and manipulative. This is too great of a price to pay. Do we need to find ways to be with each other in more respectful ways? We do. Are there certain character traits that lift up all of us and that we would be wise to cultivate in each other? Yes.
But how dare you use nice to enslave others to your will. How dare you add another brick to the growing social credit system we are heading towards where outside sources score you on how nice or not you are. And then decide what you get to have in life by way of movement though a culture based on whether or not they think you and your ways check the “nice” box.
We must learn to recognize when virtues are being co-opted and used against us. The very same sacred and life-affirming virtues that already exist within us, and need only trust, patience and encouragement to bring them forward. Otherwise, we are condemned to live as a culture of goody-goody’s wagging their fingers at each other; ready to rat out anyone who does not conform.
We have got a very big question before us as a world: Do we want to live with each other based on the very best in us, or do we want to live according to the smaller version of ourselves where we use distorted versions of human virtues to control one another?
P.S. When I looked up “nice” in the dictionary and the thesaurus, here’s what I found: foolish, wanton, silly, simple, trivial, old-maidish, persnickety.