Thursday, February 28, 2013

a few thoughts about niceness, in general and in politics

1. In politics.

There's a feminist claim that "“Being nice” is code for keeping your mouth shut." It's not—"playing nice" is not code for not playing. If you don't understand "Be nice", Malcolm X's advice may help: "Be peaceful, be courteous, obey the law, respect everyone." If you think he was some sort of milquetoast, he didn't think niceness solved all problems. He finished that advice with "but if someone puts his hand on you, send him to the cemetery."

So really, if no one has put a hand on you, "being nice" is the best tactic.

Angry people who love their anger think "be nice" is about denying anger. It's about controlling it. Martin Luther King said something I wish I had always remembered in political debates, "No matter how emotional your opponents are, you must be calm." In the last year of his life, he said, "The supreme task is to organize and unite people so that their anger becomes a transforming force."

I left this comment at Feminists can't be funny and angry? Are you having a laugh?:
Anger alienates people. Are feminists who rationalize anger really stooges for the patriarchy? If so, they're doing a great job at giving feminism a bad name: In the US, 84% of the population shares the goals of equity feminism, but according to a CBS poll, only 24% of women and 14% of men consider themselves feminist.
I googled "radical niceness" and found A Christian Feminist Journey: Radical Niceness: "Sometimes, the aggressive of left wing or feminist activists (I say sometimes and not all the time) can allienate those who may have been on our side, or who may have just had some sympathy with our cause. Courtisy, offers of friendship, and a willingness to explain or perspective can go a long way."

2. In general.

Yesterday, I tried to be nice on the internet. A little snarkiness crept in, but I'm hoping it was mostly nice snarkiness.

After some discussion on Twitter, I'm ready to propose a hierarchy of niceness:

1. Deeds alone. The nicest people never have to say a word; their actions speak for them.

2. Words and deeds. Some people insist that words are deeds, but words are only deeds when they have consequences—when speaking truth to power nicely is dangerous, it's a deed. Words may lie, but deeds never do. Some nice people's words are at odds with their deeds—those people, the world's curmudgeons with hearts of gold, tend to be hated by strangers and loved by friends.

3. Words alone. The first clue someone might be nice is not their words, but the absence of them: nice people never say anything mean about anyone. The second clue is the presence of words: nice people try to say something nice to make any situation better. But meeting both tests of niceness in words does not mean someone should be assumed to be nice—though it is nice to assume it. (Insert here any clever quote about liars, hypocrites, and con artists.)

Nice people love everyone, at least a little. "Schadenfreude"—pleasure in someone else's misfortune—is not in their vocabulary, because they suppress it quickly when they feel it, wish no one felt it, and would never accuse anyone of feeling it.

Nice people are not perfect people, but nice people are more perfect than they can know. Being nice does not eliminate vanity, but it reduces it.

Everyone is nice sometimes. Being nice sometimes does not make anyone nice. Niceness is not contextual. Most people are nice to the people they consider their peers or superiors. If you want to see whether someone's nice, try a test that people like Bell Hooks fail—how do they treat people in the service trades? Truly nice people treat everyone as a peer. They expect deference from no one.

That said, if you don't think you're nice, don't sweat it. Your suspicion may be proof that you're nice. Or it may be that niceness just isn't your virtue. I love a great many people who're the opposite of nice sometimes. Not being nice does not preclude being wonderful.

But all nice people are wonderful.

PS. After a bit of discussion on Twitter, I have this to add: "Tactics that make your opponents question your sanity rather than their assumptions are bad tactics."

ETA: Respect everyone