This I Believe

Michael - St. Louis, Missouri
Entered on June 10, 2007

I’m not ashamed to be nice, even if I wonder at times how the word becomes a curse more than a compliment..

I still recall the details about one conversation, her hair, the melody of her voice, even the warmth of the vinyl seats in my ’66 Chevy Impala. “I’m sorry… you’re just too nice a guy, I don’t want to break your heart.”

Two words — too nice, tarred and feathered for being too nice? She may have just told me that my character was so devoid of negative qualities that it made me unappealing, that painful breakup was inevitable. Too nice?

I never gave any thought to the notion that niceness might be a liability. Heck, I thought that was how you were supposed to be. Niceness as a character flaw was such an alien concept that it remained on my intellectual radar for years, awaiting decisive validation or repudiation. But it seems that the negative potential of nicety gets validated more and more with each passing year.

Nonetheless, I’ve reached a comfort zone with my own niceness; even though nice has become the description of choice whenever someone rejects all other positive adjectives or nouns and the subject is just too bland for anything more definitive.

Consider its use in business. In the Dilbertarian rat mazes of today, the phrase “he’s a nice guy” is often synonymous with “he’s an ineffectual person that smiles at strangers”, shorthand for “no threat.” Moreover, forget about using nice in the context of any political discourse, people will never be able to decide whether you meant to be sarcastic or not.

I’m a baby boomer, a member of the first generation co-parented by television; and I’m not ashamed to say that substantial parts of my moral and ethical values were influenced by the likes of Captain Kangaroo. Go ahead… chuckle all you want, but the Captain always told you to be nice to people. I also had the benefit of two loving parents, the influence of a suburban protestant church, and a school system with uncomplicated versions of right and wrong. None of these moral touchstones ever suggested that nice was something to avoid. Somewhere along the line, the niceness of Captain Kangaroo was devalued, to our individual and collective detriment.

Despite this unease with the word, I have come to accept its application to me, and at times, I will use nice when describing someone else. It’s a four letter word aggregating any number of positive descriptors like respectful, gracious, courteous, friendly and kind. What is wrong with simply aspiring to be nice?

In these often un-nice times of reality TV and negative, retaliatory politics, it is cause for regret that the word nice does not have more power. If I am truly a nice guy, perhaps the Captain had a lasting effect on me, for which I’m grateful. It’s a nice thing to consider.