A Bit 'o Random Musings on Politics, Religion, and Anything Else That Passes Through My Crazy Head

Saturday, January 31, 2015

It's Important to Be [Kind]

While watching the recent movie adaptation of "Into the Woods" (which was AMAZING, by the way), two lines stood out to me and I have been thinking about them ever since. When Little Red Riding Hood is saved from the Wolf, she sings a song about what she's learned, stating: "Nice is different than good." Similarly, the Witch accuses some of the other characters when they try to save Jack from the Giant: "You're so nice, you're not good, you're not bad, you're just nice." We don't typically use "nice" in a pejorative sense, but the Witch and Little Red Riding Hood seem to. Being Mormon, "nice" is kind of ingrained in us. They got me while I was young with this MormonAd:

"It's nice to be important, but it's more important to be nice" (see footnote 1)

But do we really want people to be "nice"?  Nice is different than actual charity, kindness, or empathy. Nice is a thin veneer of an outward show of respect that may or may not be truly felt. Nice is basically politeness. As Little Red Riding Hood notes, NICE is different than GOOD.  This is expressed by Chieko Okazaki, one of my favorite LDS leaders:

When the apostle Paul says, “Charity suffereth long, and is kind” (1 Corinthians 13:4), he’s not just talking about being nice and wearing smiley-face buttons. He’s talking about the core of the disciple’s life. Kindness without love is not kindness at all. It’s patronage, it’s condescension, it’s smugness and superiority. If you have been the recipient of this species of “kindness,” you know that you would much rather do without it. But with love, kindness is refreshment and rejoicing. It strengthens bonds and creates new ones. And it’s a tough, patient virtue, not a frilly, fluffy one. (Sanctuary, 75)

When we think about politics I think we sometimes want our politicians to be "nice" to each other. We want them to avoid yelling, to show that outward deference to another's point of view. But I think we may actually get condescension, smugness, or superiority to dominate our political discourse when we expect this type of behavior from our elected leaders. What we should be seeking is politicians and leaders who will risk empathy and true charity towards those who disagree with them. 

One of my friends worked for a Senator and I remember her telling me that they would get nasty phone calls from constituents when the Senator was simply talking to members of the opposite party on the Senate floor and it was on C-SPAN. She noted that it had a chilling effect on relationships between Senators. If we can't even deal with our elected officials being nice to each other, I don't know how we would handle them compromising and seeing things from the point of view of the "other"! 

Nick Kristof, a New York Times opinion columnist recently wrote about a high school friend of his who had died - I thought he made some good points about how we need empathy for those who suffer, instead of judging them. Unfortunately, reading through the comments just proved Mr. Kristof's point - many commenters did not stop to consider that they could have been in this man's place - they hadn't walked a mile in his shoes, but were perfectly willing to judge him (and by extension anyone receiving government help). Where is our empathy? Where is our compassion and kindness for those who struggle? Where is our understanding for those who disagree with our politics? I don't have answers to these questions, but I know that part of fixing our broken political system (and world) is breaking through niceness and getting to true charity for others. I just wish I knew how to do it.

Footnote 1: Note that I could go out on a whole different (feminist) rant about this MormonAd. I think it has a subtext that encourages us to be doormats and downplay our own importance. For another time...

1 comment:

  1. Agreed! Reminds me of an essay called When Nice Ain't So Nice by the inimitable Elouise Bell that was in my freshman English class readings.