I have been called nice – a lot – frequently. I know people mean well, but nice can be…er, well…nice. It is so fluffy, so sweet, so damning with faint praise. There is no bite in nice – and that is precisely the point. Nice is toothless and gummy. It leaves no marks.

Nice lacks gravitas. There is no substance, and good God, it is certainly perceived as the antithesis of power and strength.

As a child, my father called me the “one with balls” and my younger sister was described as “damn nice.” At the time, I inwardly howled, “But I am nice, too.” I thought I could be both.

Nice suggests an agreeability that supersedes opinion, choice, and preference because you are not rocking the boat or creating havoc. Nice is bland, it is the vanilla ice cream of characteristics.

Synonyms for the word “nice” are pleasant, enjoyable, good, kind, polite, agreeable, fine, and even lovely, amusing, and wonderful. Well, those last three nailed it, I am nice!

Maybe this word isn’t so bad after all. Perhaps, I need to begin a major advertising campaign with some leathered and lathered-up hairy rocker proudly screeching that he is N-I-C-E – complete with some pelvic thrust action to accentuate the point. The word “nice” definitely needs a spin doctor, a make-over, or a comeback story after going rogue. Because, truth be told, there is still a bit of saccharine aftertaste with the word “nice.”

Truly, we don’t take nice very seriously. These days, nice is no longer an accolade. It feels like more of a fallback position when you have little to say about a seemingly inoffensive person. See…we’re back to vanilla ice cream.
Or are we?

Does it take guts to be nice in this world of me, me, me, and what-about-me? If the flip side of nice is unpleasant, unappealing, disgusting, disagreeable, unkind, and nasty, do I want to punish “nice” for its seemingly toothless innocuousness? Does “nice” simply have a bad rep or, more pointedly, can “nice” have a mouthful of teeth but choose not to bare them – or, at the very least, choose not to draw blood with them?

Perhaps, it’s time to rethink “nice.” We love Jimmy Stewart; his movie portrayals are often the King of Nice. Think of “It’s a Wonderful Life”…we all still get a little misty-eyed at the big ending filled with niceness, no matter how many times we have seen the movie.

We love hearing stories of someone who out of the goodness of their heart helps another person in distress. And hey, doesn’t that count as nice? There is the neighbor who helps you rescue your snickering, laser-eyed cat from a tree top named Olympus, or the individual who picks up the apples that are merrily rolling down the aisle of the Piggly-Wiggly before taking out the oncoming shopper and sending her sliding into baked goods. Whether small or large, these heart-driven, happy-to-help gestures of kindness are nice.

In a world where human decency often takes a back seat to greed and power, it can take guts to be nice. If you are engaged with the world and not a two-dimensional being, nice requires caring, consideration, and thoughtfulness.
If I can be authentic, speak my truth without taking any heads, and still be kind, courteous, and peaceful, have I lost my edge or has my edge become more refined?

Author's Bio: 

Adele Ryan McDowell, Ph.D., is a teacher, writer, and psychotherapist with 30+ years’ experience. Dr. McDowell’s work focuses on helping clients find hope, balance, and peace in the face of crisis, trauma, abuse, and grief. She has worked with suicide, domestic violence, and sexual assault crisis hotlines, survivors of Hurricane Katrina, 9/11, the Joplin Tornado, and the Newtown shooting; clients struggling with addiction as well as those moving through profound life changes such as grief and health challenges.

Dr. McDowell is the author of Balancing Act: Reflections, Meditations, and Coping Strategies for Today’s Fast-Paced Whirl. The suicide of a fellow psychologist led to the creation of her second book, Making Peace with Suicide: A Book of Hope, Understanding, and Comfort.

You can learn more about Adele, her writing, and her thinking at www.AdeleRyanMcDowell.com and www.AdeleandthePenguin.com.