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Niceness is one of our best compliments, What does it mean?

Updated on November 5, 2009

meeting people can be strange

meeting people can be strange
meeting people can be strange

Are they REALLY nice?

Nice is one of the most overworked words in our conversations. When we say someone is “nice” it’s because someone acted friendly and accepting towards us, or just has a pleasant demeanor.

It doesn’t necessarily follow that that person is a good person or kind to others. That’s probably why Europeans and others look askance at the American attitude and rightly think that it is superficial, not very discerning and not “wise” or realistic like our more cynical counterparts.

A good person, by my definition, is one who does not want to get ahead no matter what it takes. Not one whose highest value is to be on the top of the heap, who considers that life is a heap of people, that he or she wants to be on  top of. Containing the belief that this person is better, more intelligent, more white, more politically correct, smarter as distinct from intelligent – that is - he or she won’t be cheated but doesn’t mind cheating on others if considered necessary. Believe me there are plenty of people like that. They may be very nice.

So what is a kind person? Not much different in definition from a good person. Except that kindness takes goodness one step further, to the desire not to harm or hurt others. I didn’t say the positive side of that – to help others, but the desire to not harm others. This takes some understanding of life and empathy for others that is usually the result of personal trauma that has taught you that you are not perfect. You appreciate the kindness that was offered to you during a tough time. Or perhaps it is simply your nature or training to be kind to others whether or not you feel they deserve it. You can debate with your friends if that is true kindness.

Being kind takes work. At least for me. I have to remember, because I want to be a kind person, though not everybody does, and I am certainly not always. I need to tell myself that we never know what a person is going through. It could be a really rough time for them right now. And we all have those. Bad things happen all the time, just like good things do. People don’t share the bad things, because people don’t want to hear about them. Doesn’t mean they aren’t happening.

Like most of us United Statesans, we like nice. We like nice days and nice people. It is one of the best compliments we give. And if we say that someone isn’t nice, well that’s bad. What we mean is that person didn’t treat us with a pleasant manner, which leads us back to our beginning definition. Not exactly an in-depth character analysis, just an observation of behavior. After all the SS were very nice when they came home for dinner after supervising the gas chambers.

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