25

The Danger of Nice

This has been on my mind of late because of the kerfluffle about common core and fact vs opinion, so republishing it from Catholic Stand.

“Be nice.” “That’s not nice.” “Wouldn’t it be nice if people would just get along?”

Nice is almost as hard to define as the notoriously subjective “fair,” but I’m starting to think it’s far more dangerous.  ‘Nice’ is applied to a standard of behavior that does not raise objection among those who are around to be offended; ‘nice’ is a sort of vague version of ‘polite,’ centered around everyone feeling good.

Most obviously, I’m sure anybody that’s stumbled on to this site has at least heard someone say “I’m not very religious, but I try to be a nice person– and that’s what’s really important, isn’t it?” Those of us who have argued theology have almost surely heard “Well, we disagree about that– but we agree that people should just be nice to each other, and that’s the important thing.”

Now, there is a very important point to the idea of being “nice” to people; Jesus said we are to love our neighbor. Those of you who have been around kids, let alone raised them, know that only being nice from the kid’s point of view is not being very loving to them at all. It makes you feel good, in the short run, but isn’t actually aimed at the good of the other person as a person. On a side note, the “love” mentioned in the Bible is generally agape, charitable/giving/sacrificial love– giving someone a thing they need because you have it to give.

The point about loving someone as a person is relevant; it’s not all about you– or, more commonly, how they make you feel– it’s about them. To paraphrase a quote I first came into contact through by another paraphrase,  “in the absence of faith, we govern by nice.  And ‘nice’ leads to the gas chamber.”  

It’s not nice to let someone suffer great pain, even if there is no way to help them heal; it’s not nice to tell someone no, be it an alcoholic who wants another drink or your boyfriend; it’s not nice to have standards, because someone will always fall short– and it’s not nice to feel like you failed.

It’s not nice to let a child be born into a less than ideal situation, be it because the kid is believed to have a physical condition that will cause a young death, or be it because the parents are not set up to take care of them in the most ideal of manners.  Unmarried, poor, have diseases themselves– or, God forbid, the poor child came about as a result of rape.  It’s so much nicer to just…make sure they never have to deal with anything.  Ever.  And no-one else will have to feel bad, or have demands made on them, as a result of that child’s life if the life is ended before birth. (Or shortly after, depending.)

If the quality of their early life at home is reason enough for it to be nice to keep them from suffering, how about things like Down’s Syndrome?  Since the unborn aren’t visible in general company, you can’t really be nice to them, so if some are lost in the search-and-destroy for unwanted syndromes then you’ll just have to be extra-nice to the woman that would have been their mother.  Of course, if a woman should somehow give birth to a “defective” child, there’s always a lawsuit.  Because it wasn’t nice to not tell the parents so they could…”fix” the problem.

I really hope anybody getting this far has the same sick lump in their gut that I do; when I first heard the phrase about “compassion leads to the gas chamber,’ it confused me– how could killing people be compassionate?

That was, obviously, before I was familiar with the idea of mercy killing.  Long, long before I ever found out about the justifications the Nazis used to kill off the disabled– long before I ever heard that they had targeted the disabled, along with anyone else that was different or in the way.

The last century gave a pretty solid nose-to-toes example of the various ways that people could use various notions of nice— stripped of the moral recognition that some other human is a person, and thus has inherent dignity that needs to be respected.  Even if they’re not close enough to you, physically or emotionally, for being nice.

From the opposite direction– isn’t there always room for over-correction that sends you right into a new mess?– there are things like the abuse of the ‘seamless garment‘ metaphor that hold objective evils– abortion, euthanasia, deadly human experimentation, contraception– on the same level as subjective, pragmatic applications of teachings.  (War and the death penalty are famous examples.)  We do need to respect the human dignity of others in more ways than just not killing them personally– the details of how to go about that are where it gets sticky.  Possibly as a matter of how the world works– the poor we shall always have with us, after all.

This life and death see-sawing should make us watch our step carefully– the misapplication of the idea of being nice doesn’t mean that we should avoid being nice, it just means that we should keep it in its proper place; not the highest calling, but a worthy servant of loving others.

It will not always be easy to figure out how to best be loving to everyone.

On further consideration, I’d kind of like a phone call when someone actually has a situation where it is usually easy to figure out how to be loving to everyone.  With a miracle that size, figuring out my phone number should be a snap.

The bigger stakes, the harder it is– I know that I cannot desire to end the life of another person, but I am aware that I may have to do so if that’s the only way to protect a third party.  Sometimes, even if I think someone is justified in their actions, I’m going to have to resist them because the effects will be so bad.

I guess that’s why we’re all supposed to try to assume the best of others– charity in thought, as well as deed, with enough wisdom to keep from making bad assumptions that cause an even bigger problem.

When I manage that this side of heaven, I’ll give you a call.

Share With Friends
  •  
  •  
  •  
  •  
  •  
  •  
  •  
  •  
  •  
  •  
  •  
  •  

Foxfier

Former sailor, trained calibration tech, current mother, current geek; has a former sailor current geek computer tech husband, five kids and two spoiled barn cats. Has been "Foxfier" since before Mozilla existed, let alone renamed their browser "Firefox." It's a purposeful misspelling of the photo-luminescent effect-- for something that might look scary but is harmless. That's it.

25 Comments

  1. How some words change over time.
    Nice is an amelioration it seems.
    Latin: nescius meaning ignorant.
    Old English nice was know as being foolish and silly.

    So fitting though.

    I love this quote because its dead on; “In the absence of faith we govern by nice.” Thanks Foxfier. It’s so true!

  2. Phillip

    “Nescius” in Latin can sometimes refer to affected ignorance and so mean something like reticent or coy. One can see how this could evolve into “unwilling to give offence.”

  3. MPS.

    Unwilling to give offence. Yes. I could see how that meaning transpired into todays nice. Thank you.

    are you ready…”Have a nice day.”
    Truly. Take care. 🙂

  4. Abortion is quite a relevant issue regarding “nice” and I will try not to judge women who have terminated. My big problem with many anti abortion groups is that they don’t speak enough about terminating unborn babies due to detected disabilities. As someone pro life I believe in disabled individuals having a right to live and be born. The problem is progress has allowed for discrimination of those who are not as contributing to economic progress. As Catholic’s we need to fight more for the needs of the disabled, who are often victims of many cutbacks.

  5. I would agree with everything that’s been said here with one caveat. There are now many, particularly on the internet, who seem to believe that not being “nice” in this sense means throwing good manners out the window and grants a license to be perpetually insulting, cynical and rude. Yes, there are times when we have to call a spade a spade and not be “inoffensive,” but let’s not go off the deep end in the other direction and use it as an excuse to dispense with ordinary courtesy. I know that the term “civility” has been frequently abused of late, but there is a place for it.

  6. St. Augustine from The City of God, “What is reprehensible is that, while leading good lives themselves and abhorring those of wicked men, some fearing to offend shut their eyes to evil deeds instead of condemning them and pointing out their malice. To be sure, the motive behind their tolerance is that they may suffer no hurt in the possession of those temporal goods which virtuous and blameless men may lawfully enjoy; still, there is more self-seeking here than becomes men who are mere sojourners in this world and who profess hope of a home in heaven.”
    Amen.

  7. While it is true many people get more offended by swear words than wars or famine, I still find little excuse for rudeness. Living in England I have noticed a rise of celebrity rudeness and bullying on television. There is a difference between Assertiveness and Aggressiveness and good manners costs no money. Being nice and displaying good manners is I feel a duty of all faiths.

  8. James Charles: “As someone pro life I believe in disabled individuals having a right to live and be born. The problem is progress has allowed for discrimination of those who are not as contributing to economic progress. As Catholic’s we need to fight more for the needs of the disabled, who are often victims of many cutbacks. ”
    .
    Every human being created has an immortal, rational human soul. Murdering an human being scandalizes his soul as he is murdered. Satan relishes getting his claws into any human soul.
    .
    Therefore, it is incumbent upon the state to protect and provide for the reality of realities, the human being, body and soul and not to do so is evil.

  9. The You Tube video part way down the page at the following web link shows how nice the left wing anti-nuclear agitators are:
    .
    http://atomicinsights.com/agencies-should-not-allow-creation-of-a-hostile-environment-at-public-meetings/
    .
    This is NORMAL for public meetings arranged by the US NRC. The govt of Barack Hussein Obama encourages this sort of thing: Occupy Wall Street, Ferguson Race Riots, etc.
    .
    Some might say that this comment has little to do with this blog post, but the example cited here in this comment is one of many that shows the barbarism into which this country is descending. Consider: a 60+ year old woman who is pro-nuclear power who attended that meeting about the Vermont Yankee nuclear power plant was openly and publicly threatened by the anti-nuclear agitators, and neither the US NRC representatives nor the locally constabulary charged with maintaining public order at the meeting did anything to reign in the outrageous antics of these hyenas and jackals. This is NICE in its truest form: the acting out from ignorance – nescius. And our govt officials do NOTHING to stop it and everything to encourage ti.

  10. Paul: “This is NORMAL for public meetings arranged by the US NRC. The govt of Barack Hussein Obama encourages this sort of thing: Occupy Wall Street, Ferguson Race Riots, etc.”
    .
    Divide and conquer. Create a chaos and a smoke screen for evil and enjoy license.

  11. Elaine-
    I didn’t say a blessed thing about being not-nice as an acceptable goal.
    In fact, you might want to check out paragraph 4 and on.

  12. Mary De Voe “Every human being created has an immortal, rational human soul. Murdering an human being scandalizes his soul as he is murdered. Satan relishes getting his claws into any human soul”.

    What you say makes sense and I would consider most cases of the death penalty and war as murder. Especially when many wars has been a fight for resources like oil. My concerns for abortion include the many women who are forced to terminate against their wishes. Countries like China have high abortion levels and many women around the world are forced to terminate their babies due to being female.

  13. “Many wars have been a fight for resources like oil…”
    .
    Not true in the case of US involvement in the Middle East. We get the majority of our oil indigenously or from Canada.
    .
    But if it were true, then would you support replacing reliance on fossil fuel with reliance on nuclear energy, by means of which we can via the Fischer-Tropsch process use nuclear steam heat to convert our vast coal reserves into liquid hydrocarbon fuel?

  14. To love one’s neighbor includes correcting him. But that’s something that has to be done politely. I’ve heard a lot of conversion stories over the years, but I’ve never heard one that was instigated by being yelled at. We look to Jesus as an example – but Jesus knew what was in people’s hearts, and knew when to yell and when to bond. With the woman at the well, he was firm but compassionate. The fact is, we’re an increasingly rude society, and that’s infected the way we approach the faith. Most of the people I know who talk about the need to avoid niceness are also rude. The internet encourages rudeness. We have got to keep a close eye on our tendency to belligerence.

  15. Most of the people I know who talk about the need to avoid niceness are also rude.

    Could you please confront them, instead of dragging it in to a post about the problems with “be nice”?
    As you point out, there’s a need to correct people– choosing to take a post that is about what’s wrong with conflating “nice” with “loving” and drag in an entirely different animal of “so make very sure that you actively avoid being nice” to fight is not helping anybody, except for possibly the folks arguing for the “make sure you’re not mistaken for being nice” folks.
    *****
    We look to Jesus as an example – but Jesus knew what was in people’s hearts, and knew when to yell and when to bond.
    Jesus also showed a pattern of not using the advantages He had, instead choosing to act out what should be done– for example, being baptized, where it’s even flatly stated that He’s doing it so we’ll have a clue.
    *****
    I’ve heard a lot of conversion stories over the years, but I’ve never heard one that was instigated by being yelled at.
    I have.
    You think the 60s style protesters chose the “be incredibly rude” tactic only because it’s emotionally appealing to the person using it? It works.
    .
    Kind of like how “being nice” isn’t a one-size-fits-all, flipping tables and chasing people with whips isn’t a one-size-fits-all– even though it might be emotionally satisfying. You’re less likely to find it being effective in person because most times you test it, it’s already been used, and there’s a good chance that the person you’re testing it on actually enjoys making you angry.

  16. “I’ve heard a lot of conversion stories over the years, but I’ve never heard one that was instigated by being yelled at.”
    How about being thrown through a screen door? My paternal grandfather was a saintly man by the time I came along, but that had not always been the case. He liked to drink when younger and when he drank he was a mean drunk. One day he was chasing my grandmother, and if any goodness was lacking in this world before her birth, my grandmother filled that lack, around the kitchen table with a butcher knife. My Dad, and the first time I ever saw my father weep was when his father died, tossed him through a screen door to stop him. My father then went down town and enlisted in the Air Force. After he finished basic he received a letter from his father asking him to come home for Christmas. He told my Dad, accurately, that he had not touched a drop of liquor since the day he was tossed through the screen door. He was a total abstainer for the rest of his life and it had a remarkably positive impact on his character. I would not recommend the solution of tossing someone through a screen door to rectify bad behavior, but it certainly worked in the case my grandfather.

  17. Thank you, Donald. Great response about the efficacy of being yelled at (or thrown through a screen door). When I was new in a 12 step program and before my introduction into RCIA, I was routinely “yelled” at by my mentor or sponsor. His sponsor – a saintly Franciscan priest – always seemed to be standing behind him when I was getting my hind end handed to me, and he always had this beatific smile on his face. He later gave me RCIA instruction and heard my first confession.
    .
    Oh what sensitive feelings we have! We didn’t give a darn about whom we hurt or what lives we tried to destroy when we were out there carousing and having fun. But then we decide that all that fun isn’t as painless and misery free as we once thought, and we get religion and we want people to be nice to us, and kind and gentle and tolerant and non-divisive. I thank God that my sponsor and my first Confessor were anything but that for otherwise I would have died with a heroin needle in my veins.
    .
    Yeah, I know I shouldn’t talk about those things in a public forum but sometimes the truth has to be told.

  18. “Most of the people I know who talk about the need to avoid niceness are also rude.”
    “Could you please confront them, instead of dragging it in to a post about the problems with “be nice”?”

    Virtue is typically found in the mean. I can’t think of a better place to talk about avoiding rudeness than on a thread about avoiding misplaced politeness. There’s a danger of an either/or mentality about it.

    I’ve said this before on this site, but one thing struck me when reading the lives of various saints, how nice so many of them were. I used to think about the old doctrinaire guys, the Dominic’s and the Francis de Sales’s, as being strict and militant. When I actually read about them, though, they turned out to be genuine, decent people I’d want to spend time with. That’s maybe what I’m talking about here: the value of likeability. It’s very hard to convert someone if they don’t like you.

  19. I can’t think of a better place to talk about avoiding rudeness than on a thread about avoiding misplaced politeness.
    Then perhaps you should find one?
    Rather than responding to your impulsive reaction to the title, and ignoring the point: “in the absence of faith, we govern by nice. And ‘nice’ leads to the gas chamber.”
    The irony of defending “nice” by being so rude as to ignore both the article and the several specific responses to your only-vaguely-related comments is kind of thick.

  20. A question I have been thinking about today– Just how do you convert a heterodox modernist priest so that he quits misleading people you like. I would like to be nice But also effective.
    If I could I would throw him through a screen door! but It’s true that It’s “very hard to convert someone if they don’t like you.” I would probably end up “nescius” (Michael P-S) or coy or disingenuous.

Comments are closed.