Why It Is Important To Be Nice

by Leandra Medine
August 20, 2014
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Be-Nice

“Mean Girls” became as popular as it did not because of its cast, or its writers, or the varying stages of comedic timing that strung the movie together, or even because Lindsay Lohan was still at the top of the class that is Hollywood’s “A-List.” “Mean Girls” went viral because it was honest. Because girls — no, humans — can be really, really mean.

Somewhere along the way, benevolence was thrown out the window and replaced by malevolence. And so it was cool to be cruel. George Saunders wrote a commencement speech in 2013 where he declared that his only regrets have been failures of kindness. My father has long echoed (or foreshadowed) this sentiment, telling me that I would never regret being nice and I think he was right. My mom still tells me that when people act maliciously, it’s a note on their happiness index, not on my, or your, unlikeability.

But there’s a difference between acting nice and being kind. (For one thing, one might require acting.) A common misconception is that one informs the other, when in reality, you don’t technically have to be nice to act nice. It’s kind of selfish in that way, but if there is such a thing as constructive selfishness, niceness seems to encompass it.

You think about the concepts of karma and the sort of legacy that you want to leave behind and you’re inclined to vet in the favor of niceness based on those accords, right? I think that’s fine because ultimately, to perform an act of niceness — whether to appease a third party gaze or look for approval or to incite a slow hand clap or simply to impress the object of your desire — doesn’t really matter as long as you’re doing The Good Thing. It’s a step, no matter how wobbly, in the direction of a more important and authentic establishment and that is kindness.

See, at the core of kindness sits the crux of all that fluffy altruistic stuff that makes you feel happy (hard emotion when not contingent on material things but also only ever real and true when not) but really, really full.

Niceness can be flashy; it can be phony; it can be docile and for that very reason, has been renounced by New York Times’ writer Catherine Newman. But if you ask me, it can also be what separates humanity from barbarism. Maybe acting nice leads to being kind.

So consider this a call to action, eh? The Ice Bucket Challenge is cool but maybe we all try to The Nice Bucket Challenge for a bit and see what happens.

Original Image shot by Michael Donovan

REPLIES
  • Aubrey Green

    I couldn’t agree more. Kindness will get you a lot further than meanness. Someone being rude is a reflection of them, not you.

    • Lyric

      I work retail and I can tell you when someone is kind to me, I am much more likely to go out of my way to help them. If someone is mean right off the bat I will do the bare minimum.

      • Kari

        Kind people working in retail or any service industry never fail to put a smile on my face :)

  • http://alcessa.wordpress.com/ alcessa

    It’s just … Being nice or kind towards really bad people may encourage them to be even worse – so the nice person should be considered partly resposible for having evoked even more malice. No? Also, an act of kindness may require you to be harsh or strict or serious or firm – doesn’t look nice but your child may shy away from putting those dastardly marbles into her nose next time because, OH, was Mummy angry :-) So we need to know when to act unkindly or less kindly to accomplish what is in reality an act of kindness. Which may or may not imply the necessity to even face the backlash.

    *said by one who is generally nice, likes to be nice and kind because these things are valuable unto themseves :-), one who needs a lot of moosing done in a secret place before she becomes unkind*

    • Élora

      I personally don’t think that being mean to bad people is really the best option. They aren’t going to change their behaviour because someone was mean to them. If anything, it will comfort them in their opinion that being mean is okay, because others are mean to them too. (Of course a child is a different story — you’re trying to teach them stuff so obviously this requires them having to deal with the consequences of what they do.) But if adults have grown up to be mean persons, then they’re not going to change simply because someone was mean back. I don’t know if I’m making any sense? Anyway, that’s always what I tell my sister who wants to jump at mean people’s faces all the time. Are you gonna change them and their bad attitude? No. So what good is there in being mean to them too?

      I also find that I only make MY day worse if I’m mean to someone. I always regret it. I prefer being nice even in the face of evil customers who think employees are actually servants and that you can treat them like doormats. But I’m Canadian so I guess being nice is hard-wired in my brain. 8)

      • http://alcessa.wordpress.com/ alcessa

        Oh, I must agree straight away :-) It is always a good idea to be nice to mean people. At least the first or second or third time. That is my experience, too. I am kind by default, because this is the way I am and now that I am … old? :-) OK: flirting with “old”, I don’t go pretending too much anymore, not that I would have ever scored any job including diplomacy.
        But … apart from people who get influenced by kindness and are then not afraid to show their own, there are also … harder nuts in this world. Now, I really don’t want to change people. I am quite happy to make someone’s day by being nice but people engineering is not my purpose in life. Still, many bad people want to challenge the social borders very much, AKA they want to know how far they’ll get with their mean behaviour. Not everyone allowed to call themselves adult really is an adult. There are still many big sandpit dwellers playing around … and often, they want to be told how far they can go. Either to dismantle that barrier straight away and be happy or to attack it till they feel they have lost and know their limits now, which is kind of stability other people get by simply thinking about it. Not by attacking.
        So yes, while we should all be adults and have a really mature knowledge and opinion about kindness (“just do it”), many among us are just little children in adult bodies: you cannot educate someone else’s child and not an adult. But it also may not be a good idea to let them get their ways, at least not straight away.
        So putting up borders even though you are kind by nature PLUS surviving all the terrible feelings about it can be kindness, too …

        • Élora

          I see what you mean, indeed for people like that who are trying to see if they can get away with anything it’s surely better to set boundaries otherwise they’ll just become even more horrible. Like bullies — if you don’t do something against them, they won’t stop. I hadn’t thought of that. I guess I’ve been lucky enough not to encounter many of them in my adult life ;) (yet… Haha knock on wood)

          • http://alcessa.wordpress.com/ alcessa

            That’s good! :-)

  • Alexandra Puffer

    “The nice bucket challenge” -you slay me. I like your thoughts on Mean Girls – I remember the release of the movie so vividly, at the time I was a 6th grader being bullied on the reg. & the film really allowed me to step back and see what was happening to me wasn’t about me. Now, as a competitive (& sometimes very insecure) woman being kind can be hard. Nice is so easy! But being genuinely kind to someone I feel threatened by KILLS me. Working on it.

    Warm regards,
    Alexandra
    http://www.littlewildheart.com

  • Samantha Kinglsey

    What ever happened to “Let’s Talk About”?

    • Leandra Medine

      Mattie still contribs but we just call them rogue stories <3

  • http://curvilyfashion.com/ Curvily NYC

    How cliche would it be to ignite a slow hand clap here? Maybe less so because it is genuine? I sure hope so, because SLOW MF CLAP. In fashion especially, meanness seems to be in vogue, and I am not here for that tearing other women down garbage.

  • Tara Jayne

    I am often nice to the point of eventually, inevitably, going postal. It’s a frustrating self-destructive cycle fuelled by my strong desire to make sure no one else ever feels bad about themselves at my own expense.

    It will be my life-long struggle to be nice (exercise kindness) with no expectations of similar treatment in return. Like Ghandi.

    Word.

    • Tunie

      Maybe start by being nice to YOURSELF FIRST. Not in an overly selfish way, it’s just that, sometimes the best thing to do is to set firm boundaries In A Kind Way. Nice doesn’t mean being a doormat, it means handling difficulty as pleasantly as possible. You’ve got a head start!

  • josi

    Nice bucket challenge accepted:) Everyone should be kind, because
    - why not
    - its usually easy
    - karma… it will come back to you
    - and if it doesn’t, you have done your little part to better the world
    Good article!

  • http://vanillaelephant.blogspot.de/ Anita Mayer

    such a deep, thoughtful and nice post!
    xx Anita
    http://vanillaelephant.blogspot.de/

  • www.gynepraio.it

    Moreover, acting nice is so cheap. In a very literal sense, it doesn’t cost anything, so why not.

    • Leandra Medine

      i love that

  • http://lexxiannespoonful.blogspot.co.uk/ Alexis – Anne Beards

    I couldn’t have said it better. Kindness should be something everybody thinks about when they wake up first thing in the morning. It get’s you a lot further in life and if there is that extra person worldwide that is kind to others, no matter how small, it does make a big difference.

    xx

    http://lexxiannespoonful.blogspot.co.uk/

  • http://whitejulywear.blogspot.co.uk/ Natalie Emma Harris

    I agree. And even when you have to be honest or ‘tough’, there’s always a ‘nicer’ way to go about it right?

    http://whitejulywear.blogspot.co.uk

  • Amelia Diamond

    Someone once told me that dandruff was “nice lice.”

  • http://Medium.com/@hager_emma Emma Hager

    And then there’s the nice the just flows out of you, without any denotation as “nice.” You don’t notice you’re doing it, it just is. Because you’ve let your guard down and subconsciously come to terms with the fact that we’re all just out there trying to survive.

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  • Georgia

    Leandra, thank goodie gumdrops for this. WERD.

    I am always baffled by humans’ ability to be mean, impatient and difficult. I mean, from the most selfish perspective, it gets you further and makes people happy in the meantime. A completely basic example of this is being kind and understanding when you’re dealing with people in a retail situation. I recently bought a ring from a cool, local (I live in Melbourne), jewellery designer (Lucy Folk – her pieces are inspired by food… need I say more?!?!). I had an issue with my ring within a week of buying it, so returned to the shop to see if they could sort it out. The beautiful gurl working in the boutique was incredibly accommodating and helpful, offering to fix my ring free of charge, because ‘I had been so nice and chatty’ when dealing with her. Kindess helped me get what I want – for free! With no arguments! And this was followed by a cute little discussion about art and film and music and lipstick! What more could I have asked for?! This kindess is so simple, so easy and so helpful, but seemingly so rare.

    My Mum gave me the same advice as yours, Leandra, and for that I am so grateful. People’s negative attitudes are so rarely a reflection of their sentiments towards you, and so often an outlet for the complications and unhappiness in their lives. If only we could remember that as we bustle through our days, then our lives would be so much warmer. Comme j’ai deja dit… WERD.

    P.S. Can I just say thanks for this effing fabulous, generous, open forum?! It is such a pleasure to come here and read witty, thoughtful, relevant words written by brilliant, bright, funny babes. How lucky we are to have you, MR!

  • http://inspiringwit.com/ Jenelle Witty

    Thank you for writing this, it has brightened my morning. Being nice should be cool, not the other way around. I was such a nice kid, but school mean girls beat me out of it for a while, I had to toughen up, and got mean. It was a horrible feeling that I took time working on like ironing creases out of my linens. I even found people did not understand my niceness. They were confused, and thought I was being false. Being mean is such hard work, I just could not do it.

    I put myself out there with my blog work and at times I get some nasty retorts, people feel inclined to share their thoughts without consideration of the process behind your work, or the decision making process which lead you to it. Judgements I feel should be shared in a constructive way, not thrown down someones throat. I am in! Nice Bucket Challenge! Let’s do this! xx Jenelle

    http://www.inspiringwit.com

  • http://www.otisunfiltered.blogspot.com/ Allison

    Truuuuu. Seems especially pertinent as I’m finishing The Everything Store: Jeff Bezos and The Age of Amazon (highly recommend!) in which the author details the “ruthless” culture and bullying that is contributing to the battle with publishers, most recently Hachette. Print ftw. An old-school millenial? That’s new.

    Otis Unfiltered

  • http://www.dominiquecandido.com Dominique
  • http://www.tweevalleyhigh.com/ Kristina, TweeValleyHigh

    Great post! I said something similar this week on my blog as well, a call to kindess. http://www.tweevalleyhigh.com/2014/08/on-serious-note.html

    xo
    Kristina

  • http://www.youtube.com/users/whatlyddid LydiaGrace

    I was a B***H in high school, seriously, I threw all of my insecurities at other people, and sure it enough it came back to bite me. I lost all my friends, but since then I’ve honestly changed, I think being away from other b***hy people is hugely responsible. I still haven’t made any new friends though! Advice?

  • keara

    I really agree with this! Its so important to be nice, it costs nothing to be nice, great post! x
    Kandyflosskisses.blogspot.ie

  • anita rivas

    This was so good, bravo! The only things I regret are those few moments when I wasn’t nice….

  • http://www.deleuse.com jdeleuse

    Thank you so much for posting this! Kindness needs to be taught to children/teens by one’s everyday actions–it builds in the overall psyche. Great Post Man Repeller!! Kudos!
    Janet Deleuse

  • http://behindthemirrorbeauty.com/ Behind the Mirror

    Regrets in failures of kindness really hit home. nice post!

  • Joy

    You should really read Wharton professor Adam Grant’s “Give and Take”. His research shows how nice people succeed in this world.

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