For some reason, over the past week or so the subject of being nice has been popping up into conversations with me. I went to a writer’s conference last weekend, where the vast majority of attendees were women and people kept remarking, with a tinge of surprise in their voices, that they couldn’t believe how nice everyone was. A few other moms and I were agonizing over why 9-year old girls just can’t seem to be nice to each other. Headlines were filled with not-nice election-year behaviors. Anti-bullying missives came home from school. And my mother-in-law and I had a discussion about how being nice seemed to have a relative meaning, based on according to what part of this country you live in.
At first I found all the “nice” mentionings a bit coincidental, but since I am a little on the self-centered side, I started wondering if perhaps people were dropping hints.
I used to know I was a nice person, because people used to tell me. I don’t hear that exact word much anymore, but people do often express gratitude to me for my support, help, shoulder to cry on, email to e-vent to, etc. Is that what you say about nice people my age? Or are they offering positive reinforcement for behavior they’d like to see more often instead of the bitchy side that is sometimes evidenced here on this blog?
To try and clarify things, I looked up “nice” in my American Heritage dictionary. Here’s a synopsis: “1. Pleasing and agreeable in nature. 2. Having a pleasant or attractive appearance. 3. Exhibiting courtesy and politeness. 4. Of good character and reputation; respectable.”
Yes, well . . . I guess the good news is the folks at A.H. neglected to qualify their definition by time limits. That is, they don’t say “pleasing and agreeable in nature at least 98.7% of the time” nor must one have a “pleasant or attractive appearance 75% of the time” in order to be nice. Perhaps that’s my saving grace. After all, I do stop to help strangers, offer to take photos of people when their arms don’t seem long enough to get a self-portrait, and have good parking lot karma because I always return the cart, come hell or high water, or even lightening flashes, to its rightful place. All those are signs of nice behavior, are they not?
On the other hand, I can be catty at times. It’s just that the world gives me so much fodder, it almost seems disrespectful not to acknowledge those gifts with some kind of snarky, humorous (in my opinion anyway) remark. I’ve also experienced my fair share of Schadenfreude — but who doesn’t enjoy a head-lining story about an anti-gay Republican senator getting bad press because he likes to get close to his male interns? And, with my windows rolled up so no one outside my car can hear me, I often yell and scream at idiot drivers who cut me off in traffic. Those behaviors rather suggest I’m not nice, right?
Perhaps. But, let me share the end of that “nice” definition in my trusty dictionary. The last entries read: “Obsolete. a. Wanton; profligate. b. Affectedly modest; coy.”
Ooo! I think that means I’m an old-fashioned nice girl after all.