Caroline C. New York


The problem with being "nice."

Mr. President,

As a fifteen year old girl, I’m still formulating my own opinions about our country and our world and the events occurring in them. When questioned on how I would like to see change, at first I had trouble thinking of some important controversial subject that I felt strongly about and fully understood. Then I realized that I do have very strong opinions, not about politics, but about simple parts of life that we experience everyday. What I’m talking about is not something that one person can fix, not even someone with authority like yourself, but is a value that we as Americans have lost sight of and that I think needs to be addressed.

Communication and human interaction is something we can’t escape; it surrounds us everyday. Whether a high school student or President, it is a major part of our lives. We communicate with friends, family, teachers, co-workers, bosses, and strangers, encompassing everything from ordering a Frappuccino at Starbucks to saying “I love you” to a husband or wife. But there is a huge flaw in the way that we interact with others and treat each other, a flaw that is often viewed as a good thing. This is the concept of “niceness.”

Personally I hate the word “nice.” I hate what it means and I hate the superficial shell it hides in. Okay, maybe hate is a strong word, but I think that this is one way in which our world is lacking. We are all familiar with people referring to others as “nice people,” or our mother patronizingly telling us to “be nice” to our siblings, even after they stole our favorite toy. So we try, but it’s hard, and why should we anyway? Typically we are nice to people, not because we really care about the person we’re being nice to, but to make ourselves look better. Niceness involves no commitment, no integrity. We turn our “nice” personality on when it advantageous to us, and turned off again when we’re tired. It can mean smiling or waving to someone as they walk down the hallway, then immediately telling your friends what you overheard about them. I’m not saying that being nice is bad, not at all, it just isn’t real, it isn’t enough and does not come from genuine consideration.

So what is the alternative? Rudeness? That’s just unpleasant for everyone. No, the alternative is kindness. Unlike being nice, being kind has nothing to do with yourself or how you’re viewed. It is about others. Kindness is rooted in love, whereas niceness is rooted in fear. Kind people are the ones that make us feel like we are the most important person in the world, that we matter to them and to others. According a Chinese philosopher Lou Ztu: “Kindness in words creates confidence. Kindness in thinking creates profoundness. Kindness in giving creates love.”

Imagine a country or a world where people cared for each other with kindness, doing things for people selflessly. I know that sounds idealistic and unrealistic, and if I was expecting everyone to act this way always, I would be insane. However, I don’t think it is impossible for us to try, taking baby steps towards this goal. It does involve work; sometimes the work is fruitful and satisfying, and sometimes it isn’t. And when that’s the case, when your kindness is taken for granted, you muster your courage and do it anyway, because that's what you do and that’s not why you do it. Now isn’t that more powerful that just being nice?

Thank you,