sunday special edition, 03/10/13 — does niceness count?

dear friends —

It’s interesting, isn’t it, that the word “nice” was originally connected to the word “stupid”? That’s what the OED says:

OED definition of nice

I, for one, don’t mess with the OED. That connection makes sense: being nice these days tends to be seen as something that you do when you’re too dumb to do anything else.

Towards the middle of the classic movie HARVEY, Jimmy Stewart — playing a character who may or may not be insane — says something like “in this world you have to be oh so pleasant or oh so clever, and I got tired of being clever.”

That’s kind of how I feel.

I spent years trying to be a smart as I could be because I was in the BE SMART business — namely I was a college professor. But now I’m in the creative writing business, and that calls for a whole ‘nother kind of smart.

Or does it?

I went to the American Writing Programs convention for the first time ever this past weekend in Boston, and guess what? I met an awful lot of nice people. They didn’t seem to be too worried about being smart enough or talented enough. But they sure loved making books, and helping to make books, and reading books and talking about books.

I came away with laryngitis and a bunch of books I didn’t know anything about before. And a bunch of ideas, and at least 2 new friends. Oh, and some cool buttons.

I got these things, in part, because I set the intention to just be and act “nice.” The other part of this was the grace of others, their kindness and graciousness.

Oh, and I also had great business cards, using a funny picture my daughter drew of me.

Nice of her to draw that picture, wasn’t it?

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6 thoughts on “sunday special edition, 03/10/13 — does niceness count?

  1. I don’t know that English has a good word for what you’re trying to say about nice. It’s not stupid or polite. It has to do more with genuineness, but that doesn’t quite do it either. I’m glad you enjoyed the conference. It’s been a few years since I’ve been to one and I’m beginning to look for another.

    1. Thanks for this thoughtful comment. I think that my understanding of niceness may be both generational and regional. My Norwegian working class family talked about niceness with a real emotional force, and I am old enough to remember my other (more high class) grandmother and mom talking about how being nice really did matter. I have a feeling the word may feel very watered down and even problematic in the 2nd and 3rd wave feminist eras. And then there’s the hipster expression “nice!’ to describe everything from a blow job to a rental car. It’s always cool to think about words and how they work or don’t work. Thanks again!

  2. Glad I don’t live in the city in France that goes by that name. I wonder what their city motto is?

    Yes, AWP was inspirational and fun this year. Thanks for helping make it that way.

  3. A professor once told me that Dostoevsky gave Prince Myshkin a debilitating disorder to make Myshkin believable as a good person. The professor’s claim was that niceness is not believable unless the nice person is a bit off mentally—“touched in the head” was the phrase he used. The association of unkindness with intelligence is fascinating. Too bad when people buy in to it.

    1. Thanks Scott. I think I can guess who that professor was! It points to an interesting tradition of connecting niceness with dumbness or mental weakness. In some ways the movie that I mentioned plays with that idea. Thanks again!

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