The tyranny of “nice”

I like to think of myself as a “nice” person.  Many of us do, I’ve noticed.  I think it is especially true for women who were born in the “boomer” generation and before.  It’s something I cared about as a little kid, not so much as a teenager and younger adult in my 20’s and even into my 30’s.  Now I’m in my 40’s and “nice” is back on my radar.

Maybe it’s because of Luna.  Teaching a three year old how to interact well with others can be quite a challenge, especially if you are having trouble interacting well with others too.  So, the phrase, “That’s not nice,” seems to have been coming to the surface a lot more.

I’m coming to believe that “nice” is the ultimate in passive aggressiveness.

How many of us grew up with the phrase, “If you can’t say anything nice, then don’t say anything at all.”? If that’s not an instruction on how to be passive aggressive, I don’t know what is.

“How do I look?” asks the socially insecure person about to go out and risk something in an uncomfortable setting.  The person being asked doesn’t see or understand the concern, or perhaps doesn’t care and is focused on something else entirely.  So, instead of actually taking a moment to truly offer reassurance and comfort, says, “Oh, you look nice.”  Passive, non-committal, no effort, no fuss, no muss.  Or, maybe the person being asked has an unspoken resentment with the questioner and says something like, “That’s nice, but don’t you think you should . . .?” Passive and aggressive. Let’s undermine someone who is already feeling insecure by making them question themselves and their choices. Way to go.

Of course, there’s also the “nice” person who just doesn’t know how to constructively express an opinion that is different from another who genuinely thinks there is something that should be changed in order to improve the appearance and perhaps reduce the risk that the questioner is taking.  However, this nice person doesn’t want to risk hurting the other person’s feelings or getting into conflict, so may say, “That’s nice,” in a mildly questioning tone.

How about the ultimate passive aggressive use of “nice” in current trend?  Somebody does something not to your liking, “Oh, nice, thanks,” said in the most derisive and snarky tone possible.

Someone you don’t really like or want to deal with says or offers something to you, “Oh, isn’t that nice,” is the response with an underlying note of insincerity.

There’s a “nice” syndrome. It’s symptoms include resentment, impatience, insincerity, irritability and avoidance.  It can lead to bitterness, anxiety, and an unpleasant growth of cynicism. Left unchecked it can result in abject apathy or take the opposing course and result in violence and destruction.

Thanks for reading. Have a nice day.

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29 comments

  1. I think you’re dead-on and I think the REASON ‘nice’ is turning into passive-aggressiveness is because the true art of courteousness — treating your fellow man the way you want to be treated — is dying.

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  2. Great post, Kina and agree with your sentiments. I know a few people who try to be so nice, they chronically avoid saying things and situations, which makes them appear REALLy not nice. I hope that makes sense. In my view, the best thing you can give someone these days is honest constructive feedback. Nice is a real barrier to that. Many people seek that but because everyone is so nice, they never receive it.

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        1. Then that’s how I found you. I read your About page a few minutes ago. I decided to follow you because I think it would be interesting to get to know someone who has actually skated through life, you know? lol Anyway, I’m really glad we connected.

          Be well,
          Kina

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    1. Thank you. I can’t even begin to tell you how many times I’ve started to use the word after writing this. It’s like never seeing pregnant women and small children until it happens to you and then they’re everywhere.

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          1. Love the word. A reader shared a new word with me. Soporific. So now I have an article titled Ubiquitous and another Soporific Road Trip. I love words – OK I think they are NICE!

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  3. Great post Kina, I can especially resonate with the saying ‘If you cant say something nice, dont say anything at all’ think we all grew up with that one. Some people dont know how to give a genunely ‘nice’ comment with a barb attached. That says more about their insecurities than other peoples. I try to keep away from the ‘smiling Assassins’ and gravitate towards people I feel confident with. Who make me feel good about myself and who say things to help not hurt. Its a tough world out there and we have to give ourselves as many breaks as we can. Well done, another great post.

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  4. Nice is also something we are more likely to teach girls than boys. Girls have to play nice and get along while “boys will be boys”. I’m not sure what the solution is but we need to stop allowing aggressive behavior in boys and teaching girls that they have to find subtle or indirect ways to get the same results.

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    1. Jacquie,
      Thank you. As Emily stated, that’s not always true, but what you say has been my experience more often than not. Sadly, I must confess that I have been guilty of using it in the same manner as you describe.
      Be well,,
      Kina

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  5. This post is so nice. Lol. Sorry I couldn’t resist. I actually do think you’re right about how the word nice is used commonly in a way that really can be passive aggressive or even downright cruel. I think it really varied depending on the person’s intent with the word though. I’ve been told I look really nice by people and know it is a compliment, versus the same thing from someone else can come across as derogatory.

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    1. Emily,
      It’s ok. I was feeling less than nice when I began writing it and am feeling much nicer now. It is as you say and there are genuinely nice people who are authentic and sincere in their use of the word. I just realized however that sometimes we get so caught up in the concept of nice that we lose sense of what it actually means and is.

      Be well,
      Kina

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