Sunday, 22 February 2009

In Praise of Niceness

I never really thought of myself as a 'nice girl.' I mean, at first glance, I'm not your typical 'nice' girl, ie. I'm not really preppy, or religious, or polite (well, I try to be that last one, with varying results).

At various points throughout my life I have been a jock, a raver, a bit of a goth, a bit of a hippy, a dorky-posh academic, a flighty theatre geek, and a large dose of I-know-not-what-but-all-my-clothes-were-home-made or vintage. As time has worn on, I've combined what I like from all those areas into a fashionable mess of a closet and, on any given day, I vary between vintage Jackie O suits and a hockey jersey and carpenter pants. I'm just as comfortable in either, although if I had to chose one for all eternity Dany Heatley would oust Jackie O as ruler of my fashion sense.

I'm not religious or anything. I have beliefs, but most of them can be summarized by Han Solo and Obi-Wan Kenobi in the first Star Wars movie. I believe in charity and kindness and tolerance and diversity.

I have no real issue with pre-marital sex (so long as it is between consenting parties and breaks no laws - well, except any law against gays, because those are f*cking intolerant, superior bullshit created by close-minded, discriminating jerks who are trying to maintain some kind of legal superiority). I'm pro-choice (doesn't mean I think *I* could have an abortion, but I respect the fact that sometimes it *is* the best option). I put little to no stock in the concept of virginity - I don't know why, I just can't take it seriously.

off-side --> Yeah, okay, you've never had sex. So what? I've never jumped out of a plane. Most things are a bit scary the first time. And most things that are that scary should probably be done with someone you trust (like a really good skydiving instructor), but I don't get why it's still so important. Originally, the whole concept was promoted by patriarchal rulers so that they could ensure that their wife's offspring was theirs. (Yet another sign that matriarchal lineages are more logical... you KNOW who you mother is, you can't really avoid that.) When society beings putting any stock in male virginity, then we can talk...

I've never bought into the whole idea that girls should act a certain way to retain their 'image' - people should do what makes them happy and what they are comfortable with. That may mean being intelligent, or sweet, or silly, or serious, or romantic, or practical. People should just be themselves: if that means you don't have sex until your wedding night, so be it; if it means you're gay, so be it; and if it means you feel comfortable dating lots of guys (and/or sleeping with them), all I can really say is, "Sure, go for it. Just be safe and honest."

Thing is, none of those things make a person (or, specifically a girl) nice or not. I've known a lot of really snotty, awful prudes (who frankly could do with a little action, enough to loosen them up at least) and I've known some incredibly sweet girls who really had no interest in serious relationships, but still wanted to have some fun. I've also met some very moral atheists and some very close-minded religious folks. And, I've also known all the opposite.

Thing is, 'nice' doesn't dress a certain way. 'Nice' isn't a look or a religion or a track record; 'nice' is a mentality and the actions derived from that mentality put into action. Some of it buys into the stereotypical 'nice' mold, but most of it is based on honesty and a dash of diplomacy.

I suppose the most significant reason I never really thought of myself as a 'nice girl' was because all my friends in high school were 'the nice girls.' Out of our group, I was kind of the snarky, opinionated bitch. Sure, everyone laughed and I wasn't really mean to anyone, but I wasn't as nice as the Emilys, who remain some of the sweetest people on the planet even 10 years after I awarded them that title in my head. I was the brash, loud-mouthed tomboy-jock who never listened to her parents, went out to raves, threw a couple massive house parties (we're talking 150+ people in a small 3-bedroom house), dated half the boys who ran for co-prez for her senior year and moved out of home two months into that senior year.

Doesn't sound too nice, does it?

Okay, in all fairness, I've never had even a single drag of a cigarette. I've never done drugs at a rave. Not even once. Not even a joint. When you love the music as much as I do, you really don't need artificial enhancement to make you feel like you're spinning in the midst of a dream. I drink, but even then I have to watch it since my meds have screwed up my once-brag-worthy tolerance.

And I didn't listen to my parents because my mum was too ill to boss me around and my dad was never home to tell me to do anything one way or the other.

And my dad suggested I have those parties, one because it was my sixteenth birthday and the other because there was nowhere else to have our theatre festival's cast party and he was going to be out of town anyways.

And those 4 guys who ran for Co-Prez? I dated them over 4 years, none of them for longer than a couple of weeks. (It's purely coincidence that I happened to date the really outgoing, involved, type of guys who wanted dictatorial power over how much fun -the more, the better- we had in our senior year.)

And, I didn't have much of a choice about moving out of home: it was that or my emotional well being, and it was an easy decision.

Yet, I got to university and I was told point-blank, on more than one occasion, that I was a bit of a sanctimonious, self-righteous bitch. This, because I had a FIT when a (former) friend of mine was drinking a beer WHILST DRIVING, and because I played devil's advocate in a debate about why it makes sense that guys don't call girls back after picking them up at a bar and sleeping with them.

First? Drinking and driving is, hands down, the single STUPIDEST thing a person can do. I grew up in a government town. No one I knew drove after drinking. No one. Granted, as previously mentioned, I was friends with the 'nice girls' - but I was also friends with the junior men's crew and the u-23 men's crew, whose idea of a good time was trying to get me drunk when I was 14 (I drank them under the table) and who built a potato canon (a la Royal Canadian Air Farce) and fired rotten apples at the cars going over the inter-provincial bridge from the balcony of our boathouse - not exactly the responsible type... And I knew party kids from raves. None of them were dumb enough to drive drunk or high.

I've met 'nice girls' here who have driven drunk. Honestly, their excuse is that they couldn't get home any other way. Seriously? CALL YOUR DAD! Or your mum. Or your older sister. Or SOMEONE. I don't buy the 'no other way' BS. Suck it up. I sure did a couple times. My mother never disowned me; she was happy I had the sense to call her.

And my boy-girl-bar-sex argument was pretty simple: generally, people don't go to bars looking for serious relationships. Or at least, guys don't, so women, logically, should know better. All I said was to keep that in mind. If you want fun, go have fun, but if you meet someone and you go home with him, don't expect him to call. If you want a serious relationship, get involved in your community, or do sports, or get involved with stuff at school: that's where you'll meet the kinds of people worth having a relationship with. They told me I was a hypocrite because I'd hooked up with the guy I was dating at a bar - yeah, a bar that was having a social for the Model United Nations conference where I met the guy (which he was in charge of running, no less).


Like I said, 'nice' is a mentality. It means being respectful of others, tolerant of differences, considerate of people's feelings, conscious of the safety of others, and smart about the way one deals with adversity. By my own definition, I'm not the ideal 'nice' girl. I could be a heck of a lot more diplomatic, and I tend to seem angry or argumentative when really I'm just really interested in a debate or an academic argument. I look angry when I'm thinking, my brow does this little crinkly thing over my nose - I'm getting wrinkles there already from doing it too much... I can't change the fact that I need intellectual stimulation and I will argue that I am right (most of the time I'm only vehement about being right when I KNOW I am right). But, other than that, I do try to be nice.

I'm a bit too romantic for my own good. I can't kiss someone without meaning it. I try to be as honest as I can without being hurtful, and I've taught myself when to just shut up when older generations spout beliefs that will hopefully die with them. I worry too much about other people and probably not enough about myself. And, despite my occasional lack of diplomacy, I'm actually really good in a crises. (Although, I'm good because I have the presence of mind to be bossy.)

I'm not saying it's the only way to be, but it has worked out pretty well for me. And it's what I feel most comfortable with. There are billions of potential incarnations of this, but I've found mine, as strange as it is, and I've learnt to embrace it.

Part of it is also knowing that there's a time and a place. This applied to people in the public eye more than anyone else, but with the boom of social networking sites like Facebook and MySpace, et cetera, it's becoming increasingly applicable to the general population. You don't want photos of you smashed up on Facebook? Well, don't get smashed. Or do it at home. Or somewhere where you know who's taking photos.

It's called discretion. It's a dying art.

I was watching Barbara Walters interview Anne Hathaway last night post-Oscars and Anne insisted that she does silly, stupid things all the time; she just doesn't do them where there is a ton of paparazzi. And, frankly, I have a feeling the things she's doing are a lot less stupid (or maybe just a lot less classless) than going commando with a shaved snatch in a pleather mini-skirt or whatever. I apologize for the mental picture, but my whole point is that she has class. And she keeps things to herself. The right things. The biggest scandal she's ever been involved in was because her douche-bag boyfriend was a fraudulent real estate developer (I swear that guy has Sean-Avery-Status in the douche department). In Anne's defence, he had a LOT of people fooled too.

Mandy Moore is another celebrity who is probably the epitome of nice. Real nice. And not just because of her role in 'A Walk to Remember' - the first movie I ever saw her in was actually 'The Princess Diaries' (opposite Anne Hathaway, no less) where she was the evil bitch. I've never read a really bad (unbiased) thing about her.

Another example, which may seem strange, but just goes to show how variable 'nice' can be: Edward Norton. Love the guy. He's smart as hell. He plays incredible roles. He's had incredible critical success as an actor. He's played violent and sometimes controversial roles. (If you haven't seen American History X, please do, it's an incredibly powerful film.) He received two Oscar nominations before he turned 30. How often is he in the tabloids? Barely ever. Why not? Because he values his private life and can't imagine not being able to take the New York subway.

My last example of 'nice' was actually the source of inspiration for this little rant. Sidney Crosby is probably one of the most famously 'nice' athletes in contemporary professional sports. Which isn't to say that there aren't lots of nice athletes out there, it's more that Crosby is actually almost as famous for being nice as he is for being a talented hockey player. Which is saying something. There was a recent article in the National Post concerning Crosby's niceness. The one line that pretty much sums up my point is this, "Controversy sells hockey tickets. But Crosby, the marketing machine, sells everything: clothes, hockey equipment, sports drinks and more. And sponsors do not like controversy."

I'm not saying that Crosby plays nice because his sponsors tell him to, I have a feeling the reason he has so many sponsors is because he IS nice. Crosby doesn't just smile pretty for the cameras. He's not watching his step. He's just himself -although sometimes, I suspect, a slightly edited version of himself. But when you get down to it, it wouldn't hurt most of us to be slightly edited versions of ourselves.

You can chock the politeness up to public persona all you like, but at some point, you have to start admitting that maybe the public persona is coming from someplace real. And even if that public discretion has been developed, there's a reason WHY it's been developed. The people who come off as nice usually ARE, and the reason why they're so polite is because - SHOCKER - they actually care about their image, because they know it is in their best interests to be honest and polite and discrete, and because they are more interested in long term success than having their 15 minutes of tabloid-splashing fame.

It goes back to discretion, and the archaic belief that some things are private. In a world where we share FAR too much about ourselves on facebook, blogs, myspace and the hundreds of other sites that ask us to provide personal information, there is something to be said for knowing what not to share with the world.

It's not beyond me that my four examples are also quite intelligent. Maybe part of being 'nice' is being 'smart' - smart about the choices you make and the things you say and the people you associate with. Not that you need a BA from Yale like Norton, to be smart, but the choices these people have made indicate that they are more interested in their careers and being genuinely happy than they are interested in the shallow gratification of infamy.

It's less than surprising that some of the nicest people I know personally are also some of the most successful (and the happiest). They're smart about their futures, and while we've all made mistakes, there's something to be said for learning those life lessons, and for not repeating mistakes.

I still feel like I don't fit into this definition of 'nice' no matter how much I might wish I did; I'm not particularly successful, I'm not particularly practical, and there is no actual reason for me to hold my tongue the way Sidney Crosby does or for me to worry that the paparazzi will ever hound me in the streets, but I still feel like it's in my best interest to be the way I am, even if I don't have a multi-million dollar sponsorship deal with Reebok or my next lead role at stake.

Maybe that's just it; maybe if I want to be successful, I should take my own advice and be smart and discrete. Which would be good advice, I suppose, if I had a better idea of what I was hoping to achieve in life. And maybe, when I finally figure out what that is, this knowledge will help me.

Until then, however, the least I can do is be nice.


ali said...

Honestly -- sometimes I wish I could be less "nice."

Ah well...

You leave tomorrow?? Packed yet? haha...

Lauren said...

Sometimes I wish I could be less "nice" too...but then again, there's other times where I should probably be a little nicer.

Oh, courtesy of, The Historian is currently en route to my little mail cubby. :)

mer said...

@ lauren - you won't regret it! oh and the hotel has a pool, should I pack a bathing suit?

@ ali - day after tomorrow. eeek!

Val said...

I love your honesty and no holds barred approach to topics such as this, because being nice is not an easy thing to write about, let alone put into practice, at times.

I have learned, over the years, the value of discretion and the value of just being...I like being nice, it is so much easier than being not nice most of the time...being nice when you don't feel like being nice is always a great test of character, and one that I deal with on many occasions, it would seem...try working in a church, that will really test your niceness!

You are spot on, as always, Mer, have a great trip, enjoy yourself, pack if you haven't already, and most of all, be nice! :)

Jessclub7 said...

This year I have been trying to be more 'nice' but then someone will say or do something which just tips me over the edge and really annoys me!

Other people really make it difficult to try and be a good person - all my self restraint and tongue biting is undone!

Enjoy your trip - the patatas bravas at Amada are pretty hilarious but hopefully you'll discover that for yourself :)

Susan said...

Amen, sister!
Nice does not equal being a doormat. I go back to the old Golden Rule; you know, do unto others... But, I'm certainly not perfect, I can be a raving bitch, just ask my husband and son! I could blame it on menopause, but no, it is just me ;)
Have a super wonderful trip! I can't wait to hear all about it!

KD said...

I loved it and I think you are 100% right.

I'm not going to say anything else, because, well, I wouldn't be able to do it justice.