“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 was cool, so maybe we all try The Nice Bucket Challenge for a bit and see what happens.
Original Image shot by Michael Donovan.