I’ll never forget my seventh grade English teacher. Ok, I’ll admit, I forgot her name, but I haven’t forgotten her. She was very strict, interesting, and adamantly opposed to any of us using the word “nice.” It was like a cause for her. And we’re not talking just in papers, but even in class. It irked her like nobody’s business. I don’t know how she got through the supermarket with all the “Have a Nice Days.” For her nice was a meaningless menace that she simply could not abide.
Many years ago, after going on a blind date a friend asked me, “So, how was he? I replied, “nice,” but that I wasn’t interested. “But,” she objected, “You said he was nice!” I just looked at her and said, “Well, they’re all nice”…and I thought of Mrs. Whatever-Her-Name-Was.
Over the years as a therapist I’ve reflected on that many times. Over and over I see clients dating or marrying nice people. Now let’s be honest, most people are decent enough to say please and thank you and carry on a pleasant conversation. But is niceness all we should be looking for?
One of the reasons that I think that couples who meet and marry quickly often fall apart is that they never got past the nice phase and into that phase where you start to see true goodness…or lack of it. That’s usually revealed over time.
When looking for a spouse, a friend, a business partner, or employee what you should be looking for in that person is virtue: the sustained and sustainable habit of goodness in thoughts, words, and actions. From a theological perspective we think, of course, of the three theological virtues of faith, hope, and charity. In addition, temperance, patience, fortitude, loyalty, and humility – the queen of all virtues – are those pearls of great price for which we should be willing to sell all we have to acquire them. Nice people don’t always possess those things.
Think of your typical politicians these days. Many may seem very nice, but take a closer look at their actions and what they vote for or against. Meeting my state senator at a parade a few years ago he was very kind to my friend’s daughter who had Down Syndrome. He even announced her name which made her very happy. But according to his voting record, he supports tearing such babies apart limb-from-limb in the womb, and even supports Planned Parenthood that would sell their body parts. Thanks to his compliance, countless little girls and boys with Down Syndrome have never seen the light of day or attended a parade.
So certainly nice is pleasant to encounter but be careful…especially if someone appears too nice. Take time to get to know people and observe their actions and attitudes to get a read on the real person within. Sometimes those blunt people (think New Yorkers) who let you know exactly what they think turn out to be better people than the ones who always say the right thing. New Yorkers often get a bad rap but many have hearts of gold. But you have to know what qualities matter most and look for them.
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