Breaking the Nice
I just found out that the etymology for the word nice comes from the Latin word for stupid, which has, over time, morphed into a word for hospitality today. It’s nice to be pleasant, not be controversial, to be silent about the harder social and political topics. And that’s what I’m seeing from so many of my FB friends, coworkers, even myself. Niceness, a polite, silent niceness. Y’all know the silence – it’s the one that speaks all the things by not saying anything. Glossing over anything that might be difficult for us to grapple with.
I grew up in Arkansas, in an area that neither the mid west nor the south wanted to claim. Our own white, conservative, church going, nice and polite community. There were very, very few people of color around, and most of my FB friends still live in some form of that kind of community. Which isn’t an indictment of them, but their, our, silence is. Silence about the current social climate, silence about racism, violence, division. Trump’s own refusal to cast blame on the alt right, his decision to label those who are fighting for kindness and equality as alt left. Because this niceness, as comfortable and hospitable as it is, is still ignorant. It’s unengaged, refusing to speak for fear of sounding racist, or stupid, or mean. It’s unkind.
Kind, as you may easily guess, has etymological roots in the word for family, kin. And a family that doesn’t speak to one another isn’t a family at all. Family grapples with the hard issues, it asks questions and listens with care. It helps each other, stands up for each other, respects each other. It holds those who choose violence and disunity accountable for their actions against our family. It engages.
But kindness is also work. That’s the deal with family, right? It’s a slog. Just like the therapist in an episode from Rick and Morty a few weeks ago said, “The thing about repairing, maintaining, and cleaning is: it’s not an adventure…. It’s just work.” But unlike Rick’s relationship with his family, we can do this so wrongly that someone gets killed. And we have and we are, and we are creating more division and violence by not engaging. To be totally clear: I’m talking to us, white, middle class, educated men and women. Do not continue to passively let violence happen.
We must engage, we must listen to the experiences of those being harmed. We must denounce those who harm. We need to support our friends, our family, by listening to them, by not dismissing or belittling their experiences, by offering empathy, help, kindness.
And we must not turn a blind eye to those who hurt our brothers and sisters in this country. The Alt Right does not value kindness, respect, or compassion. And here’s the shitty thing: honestly, I don’t think we’re doing ourselves any good to not engage with the Alt Right. Frankly, I don’t want to. How do you even try to talk to them? But the thing is, is that some of them is in me. And I’m super uncomfortable with that, and I’m uncomfortable with them, and so it’s really easy to simply turn away from it. To say it’s not my fight, it’s not my problem.
But it is my problem. It’s my problem because it’s my family’s problem. And it will take work. Engaging is messy, hard, uncomfortable. I should point out here, that we (that’s us, white, educated people) get the luxury of being made uncomfortable, while our family is systemically being murdered and assaulted. It’s time to hear our family, to not silently watch others hurt them. It’s time to stop being stupid, silent, hospitable, and to start being kind.