When I was a kid, I strived to be “guai,” the ultimate compliment a Taiwanese parent could bestow upon a child. There’s no exact English translation for “guai” – it means obedient, but also considerate, kind, and nice. The irony is, if I had managed to be “guai,” I probably would’ve smacked myself for being so insufferably good. This desire to be “guai” extended into my teenage years, since the perfect, popular girls in school were often trailed by sighs of “She’s soooo nice.” I wasn’t very good at being nice, since I am opinionated and sarcastic, and in high school, I was terribly bitter that being smart wasn’t the key to social success. But now that I’m an adult, I believe that niceness is overrated. I’m not talking about the sort of niceness that causes one to help the homeless or care about the people dying in Darfur, I’m talking about the saccharine sweetness of liking everything about everyone, even if they’ve started wars or blocked the subway car door during rush hour.
For one thing, nice people are boring. They don’t take joy in poking fun at the horrible behavior of the people around them, because, in their eyes, this sort of behavior is just a quirk of personality that should be embraced as a symbol of individuality. Please. People who aren’t nice are hilarious! I have a friend who recently made it his mission to win all the games at a baby shower because a ten year-old girl was blatantly cheating at the games, and he wanted to teach her a lesson about playing fair.
Also, niceness is often an excuse for cowardice or indifference. Nice people endure shabby, unethical treatment by their bosses and don’t report them. A nice person I know described a former colleague as “sexist, condescending, and boring, but still a good guy.” Excuse me, but I think being sexist, condescending, and boring automatically excludes you from being a good guy. This type of niceness lets bullies triumph and awful conditions persist. This is why early equal rights activists were never described as “nice.”
So now, I’m happy to be not nice. I like writing curmudgeony letters to the editor, shushing interrupters, making fun of jerks, and giving money to advocacy groups. Besides, I can enjoy being nice vicariously through my husband: my mother always gushes about how “guai” he is, because he always washes the dishes.
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