As children, we were told that “nice” was something to hope for; a recommendation of self-worth and value as a community member.
But recently, I have witnessed “nice” come under attack from people of all walks of life. I, for one, have always enjoyed being called nice. I bask in the acknowledgment of my empathy and kindness. But recently, a friend told me that being called nice is the equivalent to being deemed boring.
“Nice is what they say when the can’t think of anything else to call you,” she said with finality.
And yet, I still can’t find it in my heart to be insulted by the term. I feel a little burst of do-gooderness whenever anyone acknowledges my “niceness.” The conversation did made me think, though: if I could choose what words I’d like to be characterized with, what would they be? On the opposite end, what verdict would I hate to hear issue from someone else’s lips?
After some thought, I decided I would most like to be called “compassionate” and “brave.” I get compassionate a lot, and I thought it was perhaps nice leveled up a notch. Brave comes less frequently, but it encapsulates all I want to be as a person: selfless, giving, and ready to face my fears head on. What’s the worst in my book? Being called selfish. The very thought of being deemed so sent goosebumps up my arm.
I took to Facebook and word-of-mouth to ask other friends what they’d like to be acknowledged as.
My co-editor Amy Fuhrman thought for a moment before determining she’d like to be called “caring” and “light-hearted.”
“I think being called mean-spirited would be the worst,” she followed up. “That, or vindictive.”
Clearly, she is more well-worded than I.
I took to Facebook for more opinions. The most popular descriptive term was “caring,” while the overriding negative words were synonyms of “weak.” Many others also commented that they would most want to be thought of as “unique” or “interesting,” and fear being called “ordinary.”
What I thought most interesting about this exercise was not the responses (though I think it says a lot about us that we fear being deemed weak or insensitive by other humans–we long to be an accepted part of the pack). My favorite moment was watching the faces of the people who responded to my question; how their eyes seemed to look inward for a moment as they reviewed all the things they’ve been called, all the moments they wish had been acknowledged, all the times they feared their seeming wrong-doing was noticed by others.
Even on Facebook, there was evidence of deep thought instead of instant, instinctual response. One friend did not simply write “weak:” she specified the feeling of deeming helplessness, saying that she feared to be called “spineless.”
This investigation led me to think deeply about how much we consider the way people perceive us. Each of us has a deep need to influence how the people around us view our own lives. We hope they see the virtues we hold dear shining out through our actions, our speech, and our values. We hope that they never see the deep-seated ugliness which might lie inside.
This question brings out interesting implications of how we view ourselves. But it also exemplifies how deeply we rely on the assessment of others. This can be especially true during college, when every day is spent being evaluated by teachers and by fellow students.
I challenge you to go out of your way to encourage someone with a positive characteristic you see in them today. And if it’s simply that they’re nice, I think that’s a fine choice. These words encapsulate all sorts of feelings, emotions, and vulnerability. I hope to choose them more wisely in the future, and to bring some light into my friend’s lives with those choices.