Before I begin, I should probably start by saying that I am a huge fan of “being nice.” And most of the time I am. Or at least I try to be. And I should probably add that “being nice” is something we endeavor to encourage in our children.
But this week, one of our children (who shall remain nameless) did something (which shall also remain unnamed) that wasn’t so nice.
It wasn’t cruel; it wasn’t unkind. The behavior didn’t hurt anyone or anything. It didn’t cause damage–literal or figurative.
It just wasn’t nice.
He had an opinion about something, he expressed it, and, well, in doing so, he didn’t come off as particularly nice.
We had the requisite conversations–discussed how he was entitled to his opinion, just as everyone is, but that he needed to express his thoughts in a way that was at least cordial, that he needed to disagree respectfully.
It was at that moment that I realized just two weeks before we were having a very different conversation–one about Rosa Parks, and how she stood up for what was right but in doing so broke the law (as egregious and horrible as the law was) and came off to many people as “not particularly nice.” And we concluded that at times you have to speak up, to think for yourself, to express yourself–even if that means confronting the status quo, even it that means you will come across as less than nice. We, like the rest of the world, termed Rosa Parks a “hero.”
And while certainly the issue about which my son expressed his opinion at first glance doesn’t appear to rise to the level of social injustice, to him–at his young age–it probably did.
We spend so much time–as a society–working very, very hard, tiptoeing around, in fact, so as not to offend anyone. We put “nice’ on a pedestal and ask each other to drape our thoughts and actions in euphemism.
But does this quash original, critical thought? Are we unwittingly asking ourselves–and, more importantly, our children–to put everything we, they think and feel through a filter that relegates powerful, colorful, and, yes, contradictory ideas to mere muted shadows of themselves?
As a parent, I want my children to be nice (as in kind, compassionate, empathic, and helpful) and grow into “nice” adults; but I must say, at the risk of being not-so-nice, it is my equal hope that they grow up strong and able to speak for themselves and speak up for others, even if that means disagreeing–with me, with you, with the rest of the world.
Are being nice and being a strong critical thinker mutually exclusive?
I hope not–for the sake of my children and yours–I truly hope not.