I would like to start a revolution.  (Yes, I’m still obsessed with Hamilton.) Let’s remove “nice” from our vocabulary and our thinking as the cancer (or at its best, benign placeholder) that it is.

Yes, that’s the revolution.  No more (Mr) nice (guy).  No more “nice”.  We’ve devalued nice SO much that when we want to illustrate a low bar we say, “You’re just being nice”.  Translation: “You’re lying to please me”.  “Nice” has got to go.

But, I get ahead of myself. Here’s some background:

My son is quite creative in how he expresses himself.  And by that, I mean he makes up words.   Lest you think he is a toddler, experimenting with language, know that he turned 14 this month.  He regularly chooses (or creates) a word and then uses it in many contexts, whether it makes sense or not.  The word du jour in December was infectuous.  We are currently living with “schnizen”.  One can be a schnizen.  There can be schnizenry.  In rough or exciting moments one might exclaim, “Schnizen!”.  The use of “schnizen” has brought meaning to the term ubiquitous in conversations in our house.

I realized this morning that “nice” is the same as “schnizen” – it doesn’t mean much.   Or worse – it’s a wolf in sheep’s clothing.  Look up the definition for nice and you’ll find lots of lovely words – enjoyable, pleasing, gratifying, satisfying, to name a few.   But is that what we think of most of the time when we think “nice”?  I don’t think so.  I believe that most of the time that “nice” is either generic or negative.

When we worry about not being nice, what are we worried about? We’re worried about saying something that someone doesn’t want to hear.  We’re worried about saying something that’s unpleasant for someone else.  We’re worried about not doing something that someone else expected.

I think we’ve taken “not nice” and used it as a proxy for disappointing people.  Which is really different than not being nice.  I think not being nice in it’s true form is being unkind.  Having unkind become synonymous with disappointing people is problematic in the extreme.

Outside of the obvious problems that are associated with that practice, the less obvious problem is that we’ve devalued “nice”.  We see nice as disingenuous.  We see nice as window dressing.  Thus, those who are liberated from this practice are not necessarily nice, but they’re honest.  They tell it like it is, nice be damned.  Sadly, this means that we’ve created a spectrum where honest sits at one end and nice sits at the other.  “Nice” in its purest form is goodness, compassion and generosity.  These qualities are really nice.  Instead, “nice” has become intertwined with “political correctness” –  a mask we assume, versus practicing the values of fairness and justice.  Just as problematic is that we’ve associated pleasing people with dishonesty.  Our association of nice with hypocrisy has diminished our enjoyment of people doing nice things for us.  We assume they must be dishonest in some way.

So – let’s revolt!  Let’s take “nice” out of our vocabularies.  Eradicate it.   Instead, let’s be thoughtful about the word nice and transform our relationships. Here’s how:

  • Stop yourself before you say something is nice. (How was your day?  It was nice.  What do you think of this dress?  It’s nice.  What did you think of the movie? It was nice. Did you get that report?  Yes, nice work.)  Think about what it really is: is it enjoyable? Pretty? Or something completely different than nice –  Boring?  Take some extra time to generate the word that you replace nice with, paying attention to how you feel and what you want. Then, when you communicate it, it will give your listener a better sense of how you feel and what you want.
  • Stop yourself when you’re worrying about not being nice. What are you really worried about being?  Disappointing?  Stressful? Aggravating?  That’s different than not being nice.   The truth is, that it’s not nice to accommodate someone else if we’re going to resent doing so – it’s dishonest.  Let’s separate “nice” from dishonest.   The goal is to build relationships in which we can be honest AND compassionate AND generous.  So throw out “nice” and work towards relationships that reflect honesty and connection.  It takes practice.
  • Stop yourself when you think someone hasn’t been nice to you. What is the person actually doing? Disagreeing with you?  Wanting something different than you? Being tired or stressed?  Being distracted?  Before you receive someone’s actions as harm and set off a whole set of threat reactions, try and understand what the impact really is.  Search for a different word than nice.  Unless the person is being unkind, it has nothing to do with “nice”.

I worry that my son’s vocabulary is diminishing because instead of generating words to describe how he is feeling, he is using schnizen (or infectious…).  I have the same concern about our use of “nice”.   As long as we’re not taking time to think about what we really mean, we are trapped in the pitfalls that our over and misuse of nice has created.  Those pitfalls lead to us believing that people are not genuine.  Including ourselves.  How can we trust ourselves and others if we don’t believe in our own and other’s authenticity? Cultivating these beliefs is a tall order, for sure, but arguably our most important and satisfying work.  How to begin?  Revolt!  No more “nice”.