Saturday, May 23, 2009

Nice Is In

Great news everyone! Apparently use of the word "idiot" in blog posts is down by nearly 50% in the last 6 months.

The New York Times opinion piece where I read this fun fact is saying that it is now "in" to be nice. Actors like Paul Rudd, advertisements like the latest Volkswagen campaign, and websites like Operation Nice dot com are evidence of our new found era of niceness, according to the piece.

There is a critique, however, offered by Professor Eric G. Wilson of Wake Forest University. Niceness, he thinks, results in mediocrity. The attempt to be agreeable and polite leads us down "predictable and vaguely reassuring" paths like "easy listening radio or greeting card sunrises or Tom Hanks." (When asked for comment, Hanks reportedly said, "What an idiot.")

On the other hand, I happen to think that we can be nice without drifting into mediocre fluffiness. I do not see the two as mutually exclusive, I guess. Being nice to one another doesn't preclude disagreement, dialogue, and even argument.

So I for one applaud the social trend toward niceness. Especially as so much of what is happening in the world seems to trend toward fear, tension, and suspicion, simply being nice to one another can lighten the atmosphere considerably. A smile, a heartfelt handshake, a hug, holding the door open for someone, allowing another person into the line ahead of you - simple gestures of kindness can convey a lot.

I love watching what happens to a foul ball hit into the stands. People get pretty excited about it, and it's fun to see their celebrations. But what I love most is that inevitably, if a grown up catches the ball and a kid is nearby, the grown up gives the ball to the kid. Nice! In fact, if the grown-up doesn't do so, there are almost always a few "boos" from the crowd. Being nice to the kid is the norm, and keeping the ball for yourself is socially unacceptable.

It's easier to be nice than mean, anyway. Being mean sucks too much energy. Being nice somehow seems to generate energy of its own. Being nice to one another makes everyone feel a little bit better, including you.

So be nice - everyone's doing it.

Have a nice day.


Helen said...

I said Thank You yesterday to a person that was holding the door open for me at a Convenience Store near us.

His comment was----I do it for lots of people, but you are one of the first to say Thank You.

I do not think Thank You is used enough, especially with our family that is the most important.

I try to say Thank You every morning to my husband when he brings me my cup of coffee to the chair in the living room.

I also try to say thank you to my daughter every time she calls from way out in North Carolina---she does not have to call her old parents as much as she does!!!!!

Anonymous said...


Nice post, really! I hate to nit pick, but the example of the foul ball is somewhat flawed. I for one am not impressed with how people behave when others are watching. Perception may not always square with reality. An adult who does not offer the foul ball to a kid nearby in the stands may not necessarily be keeping it for himself. There may be someone who is dear and special to him that isn't present at the game. An elderly baseball fan who is a shut in, a baby or child at home are just two plausible examples of why an adult fan may elect to keep the ball. Furthermore, those booing the adult are not being nice; even if the person were to keep the ball for himself. Who's to say that those booing are paragons of niceness? Ask Steve Bartman about his experience with booing fans. Not so nice.
In closing, should I be fortunate enough to catch a foul ball next Sunday afternoon at Kauffman Stadium, please be nice!


Stresspenguin said...

Love the post. However, you leave out the middle ground of indifference. It takes no energy not to care about others; far less than being nice or mean.

The danger here is mistaking the lack of meanness for a rise in niceness.

NC Sue said...

If indeed we're tipping the scales toward niceness, I'm thrilled. Id love to see a return to civility, even in the midst of differing opinions. Too often I see people demonizing those of a different mindset. It's far better to disagree agreeably.

Mitch said...

I’m going to assume that Jesus was generally nice. It's interesting to me still that Scripture never asks us to like everybody or even be polite for that matter. Rather we are called to be faithful to one another and to love.

I don't think this post was intended to be a theological discussion, but it seems to me that much of what passes as "goodness" today is really politeness or niceness. I don't mean to be pessimistic; I'm all about nice, as long as it's not confused with higher callings.

Andy B. said...

I for one am disappointed that more people did not use the word "idiot" in their comments!

unknowntraveler said...

Hi Andy, maybe it's just semantics, but I might choose another word than "nice" as the positive attribute. This "midwest-nice" thing drives me nuts (as an eastcoast transplant to the midwest). How about "honest respect" or "truthful integrity" or somesuch? The word "nice" just carries too much baggage for me. All that aside, if people are actually acting in a more civil manner, "Hallelujah!" ~Andy