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The Tyranny of “Nice”

Nice“Wait, how do you know Marta? She was never in your class?” This might be one of the most common questions I get when in conversation about my profession. I’d have to be completely shut down not to notice the students that flow in and around my professional life on a daily basis. My amusement at this statement never ebbs, to tell you the truth, as I kind of enjoy the moments when my students realize that I might be a person outside of the time spent in the classroom. Yes! I am a person who notices other people and interacts with them!

That’s not to say that I am necessarily interested in eavesdropping on their lives. On the contrary, I am amused by the degree to which my students imagine that I want to know about these details. For sure I am a compassionate ear for those that need it, because I’m not an indifferent monster. And there are adults that make it their business to be “buddies” with students and “know” what there is to know and I tend to stay away from that gossip. I’m an old man to them and they need as much space from adults as they can get.

Yet there is an amorphous space between “too chummy” (nobody actually uses that word) and “indifferent and detached” that leaks into my world that with regularity.

Scene: Students filing into the classroom well before the bell rings. In a group of students that is too big to pass through the door a student slips in ahead of others.

  • Student 1: How rude! (turning to a student behind) S2 always does this
  • Student 2: Oh, I didn’t really see you and I was trying to be on time
  • S1: Well, then you should apologize
  • S2: Um, what did I do wrong? Uh, well, sorry I ran in front of you
  • S1: (turning to friend) …just not very nice – I wish S2 could be nicer
  • S2: (noticing the small crowd watching this) *groan*
  • Teacher: (an aside) You, know – S2 wasn’t intentionally doing anything
  • S1: Well, I just wish S2 would apologize when not being nice

Nobody was harmed – this is typical human interaction played out on the tiniest of scales. They thought nothing of this interaction and the incident is long forgotten by all.

A fish swimming at the bottom of a lake doesn’t notice that there is a pervasive liquid that envelopes its entire existence. “Hey fish! Did you know that there is a highly polar transparent substance that sticks together in a way that enables your ability to move and breathe? There are countless other substances within which you could be swimming and yet you have the good fortune to live within one with such strong intermolecular interactions!”

Of course I wish for people to be “nice” to each other. Of course I want people to apologize for moments which have truly grieved others. What makes me cringe in the scenario is the fact that S1 had the power to define the word “nice” and the gathered crowd conceded this. S2’s crime was being 15 years old. S2 is awkward, self-conscious and struggling to find their way. And this is more difficult when S1, who is physically and mentally more mature than S2, doesn’t wish to look outside to consider S2’s plight in any way, even after being called to do so.

Yet to blame one 16-year-old student isn’t any different than holding another accountable, especially considering the tyranny of nice is the pervasive culture within a school at times. I think schools get it wrong when the social and academic climates are geared towards the temperaments of students who can sit quietly for long periods of time. Does the school climate embrace students with energy and emotion as a pathway to learn and grow? Do our schools implicitly favor one type of student over another? Maybe they do and that’s just they way it goes. But please stop defining “nice” because we all have our own definitions of this concept. And if there is one thing that isn’t “nice” it’s judging others for not sharing your version.

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This entry was posted on August 17, 2015 by in Nonsense, Philosophy, Stories and tagged , , .

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