Two years ago I blogged about how I don’t value “being nice” very much. Like any other behavior, it has a time and a place, but it’s neither good nor bad in and of itself.
Elevating niceness can be the cause of great harm. So often we don’t want to hear “negative” things or “unpleasant” things — and by closing ourselves to those things, we allow them to perpetuate. We sometimes enable bad and evil things in the name of “being nice.”
A number of years ago, when a bill banning partial birth abortion was up for vote and big news, a close friend and I were discussing the issue. She didn’t know what it was, so I told her about the procedure. She got mad at me. She couldn’t believe I would describe such horrible things out loud. It made her uncomfortable and squeamish and upset. And it was terrible that I had made her feel that way.
Here’s partial birth abortion in a nutshell: the live baby is about 80 percent delivered, feet first, until a portion of the skull is exposed. Then the skull is punctured and collapsed as its contents are sucked out.
I agree with my friend. Partial birth abortion is gruesome and troubling. But it’s far more troubling to me to let it happen to real live babies than to hear about it. But in the name of something akin to “looking on the bright side,” some are willing to ignore heinous acts done to real, helpless babies so they don’t have to be upset by hearing about it.
Because we don’t want to be grossed out or think about icky things, we sometimes acquiesse to the likes of Barbara Boxer, likely one of the most evil — not to mention illogical — legislators ever elected in our country.
[For the record, below is the quote at 7:00 over which Boxer claims Parliamentary Inquiry at 8:21 to declare that she did not substantively make the statement.
Santorum: What you're suggesting then is that if the baby's toe is inside the mother, you can, you can in fact kill that baby.
Boxer: Absolutely not.]
Of course there is a time and a place for being nice. Sometimes it’s genuine, sometimes it’s not.
I’m very, very polite to wait staff, service workers, medical personnel, etc. That’s genuine. I’ve been there and know they are often mistreated and looked down upon. I value what they do very much and try to be respectful and polite when dealing with them.
When I get good service somewhere, I almost always find a manager to “tattle” on the employee. The surprise which with this is met indicates to me that compliments are few and far between. If we’ll speak up about bad service, we should probably make the effort to compliment good service.
I’m very polite to strangers or passersby. I genuinely value the idea of spreading goodwill whenever possible.
I’m very polite to people who do a kind deed. It’s completely heartfelt but, come on, it’s easy to be nice to people who are nice to you.
On the other hand, I’m sometimes nice for expediency.
We homeschool and I have very little patience for the idiocy and that goes on in schools — not to mention blatantly malicious behavior. One of my daughters takes a few classes at a local school that employs a teacher who is a little tyrant. He is a poor example to students (cursing to appear cool, etc.) and uses his position of power to elevate some kids and beat up on others. (He’s a dweebish sort of guy, who was likely picked on in school, and this power play seems his way to make things right.) But I have no power there. I have confronted the man a couple of times, but doing so invariably hurts my daughter in the end. He has shown that he will not be reasonable and fair minded — not to mention he doesn’t have even a modest grasp of math principles (he’s not a math teacher, but one of our disagreements was over a very simple statistic that he couldn’t wrap his head around) — and that he will target kids of parents who question his authority. We have found it better just to avoid him as much as possible and live with his attacks than try to make things right.
There are other times when I might not feel nice about something, but responding negatively simply isn’t appropriate. Maybe it’s the time, maybe it’s the place, maybe it’s just none of my business. So I’m nice in spite of my feelings. It may not be genuine, but it’s still the right course. Acting on our feelings isn’t some kind of moral mandate.
Being nice isn’t a moral mandate either. There are many times — hopefully most times in our days — where niceness makes the world a better place, genuine or feigned. But there are times when standing up firmly and forcefully in the face of evil and harm is the better choice.