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We Need Nice

“If you can’t say something nice, don’t say anything,” Mom told me again and again and again.  Sometimes, she’d raise both eyebrows and say, “Now, be nice.” Even now, sixty years later, her words ring in my ears and hit my heart. Mom knew children; we could be jealous, self-centered, rude, and cliquish.  We needed to be taught, by example and words.

            I didn’t like being told over and over to be nice, but as an adult, a parent, a teacher, an advisor to a college sorority chapter, I found myself saying Mom’s words. And my Grands will tell you, they’ve heard her advice more than once.

            I never questioned what nice meant when I was young.  I just knew.  But when I read 6th graders’ writings about a story character who was nice, and when I sat with coeds who wanted their best friends who were really nice to be sorority members, it was necessary to define the word. Whether talking with twelve-year-old or nineteen-year-old students, I found out that everyone didn’t have the same connation of the word. 

            Nice had to be described by actions, by behavior.  This reminded me of one of my grandmother’s sayings:  pretty is as pretty does.  What does a nice person say and do?

            One dictionary meaning is someone who is pleasant in manner, good-natured, and kind. Synonyms for nice include pleasant, likeable, agreeable, personable, charming, delightful, amiable, friendly, kindly, congenial, good-natured, gracious, sympathetic, understanding, compassionate, and good.  Antonyms are unpleasant and nasty.

            It’s impossible to be nice all the time.  I’m sure some students and their parents would give examples of me as a mean teacher.  We’ve all had experiences when we weren’t at our best – pleasant and kind.  I regret those times.  And we have to bite our tongues to avoid speaking, harness our fingers on a keyboard, and simply not respond when our thoughts are hurtful to another. 

            I started this column after scanning online news reports and social media. I wonder if not seeing the person we’re speaking to face-to-face, or maybe not even knowing that person, removes the filter to be kind.  Being nice and kindness are life lessons most of us were taught when we were children.

            I’ve saved writings about life lessons.  One is a newspaper clipping from a Dear Abby column published in June and it’s worth repeating.  This advice caught my eye because it was first published in the 1960s, a time that Mom came down hard on me when I wasn’t kind to others.  It’s entitled ‘A Short Course in Courtesy.”

            The six most important words:  I admit I made a mistake. 

            The five most important words:  You did a good job. 

            The four most important words:  What is your opinion?

            The three most important words:  If you please. 

            The two most important words:  Thank you.

            The one most important word:  We.

            The least important word:  I.

            In today’s world, with so much division and so many people hurting, we need common courtesy.  We need kind.  We need nice.

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