Quit Being So Nice All the Time
Doing things for the right reasons. One of a million other lines we hear every day is that we should do things for the “right reason”. But what is the “right reason”?
Something else said often, especially to children, is to “be nice” or to “play nice”. What exactly is “nice”? And is it the same thing as “right”?
These two words both have significance because they are used in relation most often to another person, but sometimes with regard to animals and nature as well. For the sake of clarity, I’ll stick to just people. Although both are used in relation to another person, the likeness, in my opinion, ends there. Both words, though having to do with an interaction between two people, don’t necessarily require a genuine consideration of the other person in order to be applied.
It seems that all too often, the words “right” and “nice” are lumped together and intended to mean the same thing, but where rightness is firm, niceties are hollow and trend toward something it bends over backward to avoid: cruelty.
A French Revolution parable from author Frank Sheed helps explain what I mean. When told the people had no bread, the king’s minister suggested, “Let them eat grass”, to which the king’s wife, Marie Antoinette, replied, “Why don’t they eat cake?”. Though the former was cruel and the latter was kind, Sheed noted that “men will die on a diet of cake just as they will die on a diet of grass”. Neither option could be considered a “right” choice.
The explanation of why something is right lies no further than its absolute and objective nature. There will never exist a sliver of the world where theft is “right” and the opposite is “wrong”; stealing something from another person will always be an objectively bad choice. Don’t believe me? Ask a thief how he would feel if you stole his stuff.
Still, so many people in the world today feel the need to argue the objectivity and absoluteness of this portion of truth, as if some level of stubbornness or a large enough portion of the population arguing for alteration could will that truth to change. A person might freely proclaim that killing a person is always wrong, but you could turn around and see the same individual advocating for a woman’s right to choose in the case of abortion over life.
In my estimation, that’s only half “right” and half wrong, but both things could be considered “nice” to do in relation to the other person.
Humanity should try to get it “right” 100% of the time before even considering what’s “nice”, but don’t take my word for it. After all, I’m a finite, human person who will die at some point in the future. After I’m gone, then what? Humanity will still be meant for more, and people will still be bound to the same moral code of “right” that existed when I was alive.
It follows that if what I say doesn’t have any impact on what’s right, and if all human persons are created equal and are to be treated intrinsically as such, then what any other human person past, present, or future says has no impact whatsoever on objective moral truth.
You can’t say the same for “nice”. Niceness is entirely based on human influence, and as a result it mirrors humanity’s flawed nature. Furthermore, all too often an overabundance of niceties without the accountability of “right” behavior compounds on itself and has the potential to create massive problems. It may be nice to tell someone that an ugly sweater looks good on them, and that someone might hear the same thing from everyone they ask, but it still doesn’t mean the person looks good in the outfit (Emperor’s New Clothes, anyone?).
Whether or not you consider the well being of another person is the key, and we’re all guilty of getting it wrong more often than we’d like to admit (for me especially). To treat a person rightly is to consider their long-term well being, while treating a person nicely is only looking at the short-term.
Am I saying that you can never be both at the same time? No. But next time the opportunity comes up, choose “right” first.
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