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Why can’t people just be nice?

Because the world is not Cadbury.

Nor do we live in a yoghurt commercial.

I’m not trying to be a downer, I seek to understand the human condition, and articulate my own thoughts and questions I have running through my head. It’s through understanding that peace can be reached. Why can’t people just be nice? Is being nice something to strive for? What are the benefits/advantages of not being nice? What is being nice, exactly? My mind runs wild like an untamed beast and I rather attack it head on than let things lay dormant only to erupt at the most inopportune moment. Much like the person who thinks they can only be nice…and then finds out they can’t.

This week’s article has sprung from a seemingly innocent conversation with a friend on this very subject in relation to fans shouting all manner of things at players. “Why can’t people just be nice?”, well, how long is a piece of string? Sometimes…

I jest, but I digress.

This may come as a shock to you, but I don’t feel obligated to be nice to people, nor do I believe that simply being nice to someone makes you a good person. It’s not like I go out of my way to be mean to people, but I will show you common courtesy until you give me a reason not to. I will be polite until the situation determines a different course of action. It’s not the same approach, and there is a difference. You have to earn my respect, I don’t just give myself away freely. I find it difficult to shower people with praise unless I truly feel it is warranted, which is rare, and in 2023 this makes me not a nice person.

“Being nice doesn’t get things done, it just gives people a false sense of feeling better/good about themselves.”

Being nice has a darker/sinister side that I wish to briefly explore now. It is often associated with false/fake people, people who are described as brown noses, opportunists, sycophants, those who voice empty platitudes, people telling you what you want to hear (or tip toeing on egg shells). It can be the sound of false encouragement, dismissing criticism of ideas or claiming the moral high ground (just because they think they’re being nice).

Now, the above take on being nice could be labelled as sceptical or cynical even, but as humans we are skewed towards negative emotion, the false good (which all the aforementioned are examples of) can do us more harm than originally anticipated. Being nice to someone can enable them for the wrong reasons e.g. poor/destructive behaviour such as substance addiction.

So, is being nice a ‘bad’ thing? It’s not the point I’m making. It can be, but usually isn’t – then why are we having this discussion, Martyn? Sounds like you want to be pedantic or have a bee in your bonnet about something? For surface-level interaction with most people, nice is acceptable, I would go so far as to say it’s probably preferred. However, the lack of sincerity / genuine people leads to a lot of emptiness and shallow behaviour which has me questioning why they are being nice. Ulterior motives are rampant.

“Am I expecting people to be deeper, more complete human beings than they are capable of?”

With the rise of a more sensitive society there is a preference for niceties to telling it straight. This stems from the incessant need to be liked and validated combined with a lack of resilience/strength team by being incredibly anxious and insecure. Nice means no problems, it means smooth sailing, even if it’s only an illusion.

I’m not using this to justify the opposite, as being nice > being rude. People often mistake, whether deliberate or not, rudeness for truth telling as hard truths are generally not nice. They will mask their cruelty as tough love, their own insecurities for fault picking in you, their fear of abandonment turns into you being the subject of their wrath. You can let people down gently without insulting them. You can find better ways to get your point across without undermining the other person. You don’t need to put someone down in order to make yourself or someone else feel better. This can be a real struggle given how good you can feel by being not nice, and boy do we love inflicting pain and suffering on one another.

“In a world that has a tendency to seem horrible at multiple turns, I’m here talking about why being nice isn’t all that it’s cracked up to be…ironic isn’t it?”

I presume nice people want to be better people which is why I’m having this discussion. I generally find that people who aren’t nice don’t really care that they are not nice and thus have no interest in improving themselves. So, this is an appeal really, as much as a course correction.

Being nice is not good enough.

Nice is not a virtue. Like happiness, it’s best viewed as a by-product, a fleeting experience, ergo, it’s not something to strive for. It doesn’t run deep enough, like authenticity. It’s a substitute for the real deal. Wisdom, justice, courage, genuine reciprocal relationships.

For the sake of our children we must be better.

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