We humans are depressed. We are worried. We are continuously anxious. We think too much but feel too little. But do you know what connects us all? Yes, it is kindness, it is niceness, the love for mankind. Most of us can’t rejoice in another person’s sorrow. We weren’t meant to be like that.
Yet, to come into this world and to try to become a nicer person sounds like a totally vague, deeply colourless and dispiriting goal. Yes, theoretically, we love niceness of course. Yet, in practice, there seems to be something embarrassingly anodyne and timid about the concept. A nice person definitely sounds like something- we would love to be, but only when every other strenous and more rewarding alternative has failed.
Though we may internally feel that being nice is important and fundamental to a happy living, but our society has been witness to a few ground breaking truths, which has led it to preach all its new offspring the exact antithesis of what we actually feel about niceness.
1. The Legacy of Romanticism: Nice but Boring…
For most parts of the last millennium, our thoughts have been systematically influenced by a cultural movement known as Romanticism. The followers of this movement are called Romantics and for them, the truly esteemed person is one who is energetic and creative as well as intense. Lively yet at the same time volatile, assertive and quick- someone who might choose the road less travelled and is daring to the point of being unreasonable and forceful, even rude, in the name of following the call of one’s own hearts.
The exact opposite image of this God-like figure was, for the Romantics, someone mild and respectable, regimented and monotonous, defensive and conservative, reserved and quiet, in other words- the boring person. Here, there has seemed a radical choice to be made: either fiery, unpredictable and brilliant, or meek, conventional and always in bed by nine.
2. The Legacy of Capitalism: Nice but Bankrupt…
Amongst the accusations against niceness, Capitalism added another variable into the already fragile equation- by giving a new perspective to the already botched up interpretation of the world. It presents the world as a deeply adversarial and competitive arena in which everyone was committed to wage a continuous battle in an atmosphere marked by ruthlessness, determination and impatience- to get a slice of the ever so coveted Market Share. And it is a universal truth that those who succeeded knew how to destroy the competition at hand and handle the workforce without a trace of emotion. A nice person, unwilling to squeeze wages or outwit an opponent, would end up either bankrupt or in the mailroom.
3. The Legacy of Faith: Nice but Weak…
Since time immemorial, Religion has been the single most powerful force shaping our intellectual as well as moral horizons. Take up any religion and you will see that it has peace and kindness as it’s basic tenets. Each and every religion has been profoundly committed to promoting niceness to the world. With the finest aesthetic and in the most animated ways, it has compelled us to sing praises of forgiveness, charity, tenderness and empathy.
But – unfortunately for niceness – take any major religion of the world. Hinduism, Christianity, Islam- all of these great religions have seen their fair share of bloodshed in the name of God. These three names are mentioned by the virtue of their success in the battles, which were fought under their banner. Successful people in these battles, or so the believers were told, on the whole, were very nice people – and the real nice people- those who were defeated due to their non violent stand- were not, on the whole, very successful . It seemed- applicants to the Kingdom of Heaven had a choice to make: niceness or success.
Despite all this, the naked truth is that we all like niceness very much and depend upon it even more. Infact, the more a person stays away from it, the more is its requirement for him. It is just that his true memories of niceness have been suppressed by a culture that unfairly makes him feel weak and shy for lending niceness his approval. All of the qualities we have been taught to think of as opposed to niceness are in fact highly compatible with, and at points, highly dependent upon it:
– However much we are committed to success, for long portions of our lives, we are intensely vulnerable creatures wholly at the mercy of the gentleness of others. We’re only ever able to be successful because other people, usually our parents, have given up a good share of their lives to being nice to us.
So much of what we value is, in fact, preserved by niceness and is compatible with it. We can be nice and successful, nice and exciting, and nice and wealthy. Niceness is a virtue awaiting our rediscovery and our renewed, un-conflicted appreciation.