You Can’t Be Nice to Everyone:

given what Nice really means
(c) 2014, Davd

You can’t be Nice to everyone because what one person considers Nice, somebody else might consider foolish, ill-mannered, rude, sarcastic, sinful, even wicked.

The pink-and-purple necktie will do as a trivial example. Big-City Cousin Anne, to continue with the same imaginary personages, may like gaudy clothing and accessories, and genuinely believe pink-and-purple neckties look Nice on you. (I invite you to imagine what pants, shirt, and perhaps jacket she thinks go Nicely with a pink-and-purple necktie*.)

Aunt Maude, on the other hand, while she might just possibly accept a rather bright Kelly green necktie as “nice”, thinks men should avoid gaudy apparel. You’re not going to please both her and Cousin Anne with the same “outfit” [set of clothing and accessories], because their “tastes” in apparel are so different. Being Nicely dressed for Aunt Maude and also Nicely dressed for Big-City Cousin Anne … is impossible.

Not all examples of the impossibility of being Nice to everyone, are trivial. Suppose for instance, that Aunt Maude is an Orthodox Christian who is fasting—as Orthodox practice requires—before Holy Communion, and Big-City Cousin Anne wants to be pampered with an elaborate Sunday morning breakfast. If they are both Mommy’s weekend house guests, Mommy is in a bind: Be nice to Anne, and she offends Aunt Maude, who of course doesn’t want to smell all manner of tempting food while dressing for Sunday Liturgy. Being Nice to Aunt Maude, means no cooking until she has left for the church; and that, to put it mildly, disappoints Big-City Cousin Anne.

(Saturday evening would likewise be quite different for devout Aunt Maude and gaudy hedonistic Cousin Anne: Maude’s agenda includes an Examination of Conscience and perhaps a visit to make confession to a Deacon or priest—the tone of which is somewhat too sombre for Big-City Anne.)

If Cousin Anne and Aunt Maude are ever actually Mommy’s house guests on the same weekend, that might be a good occasion to present this principle to all three of them: You Can’t Be Nice to Everyone.

What tends to happen in everyday life, is expressed in the old saw, “birds of a feather, flock together.” Either Aunt Maude will find a more devout relative than Mommy to be house guest of, or Big-City Cousin Anne will find a less devout one, most of the time. We can imagine Big-City Cousin Anne saying to her hostess, “Old Aunt Maude doesn’t know how to have a nice time,” and Aunt Maude saying to her hostess, “I guess you can call Big-City Cousin Anne nice in her way, but a lot less frivolity would do her a lot more good.”

I’m more inclined to Aunt Maude’s view (and if i must wear a necktie, i prefer forest green to pink-and-purple.) I’m also inclined to predict that Aunt Maude will be less likely to demand that i be Nice, and more inclined to be thankful for things i do that please her. One of the merits of Christianity, is a bias toward modesty, in expectations as well as in dress and demeanour… and from that modesty comes appreciation of the good things life contains, even the little ones.

Aunt Maude and Big-City Cousin Anne are both fictional characters; the point i sought to make with them is not fictional at all: You Can’t Be Nice to Everyone… and since you can’t, and neither can i nor the next man, nor even super-woman—it is worse than merely unfair, to demand others be Nice…

… unless, perhaps, you are royalty, and your whims have established privilege in support.


* Wryly, my imagination drifted back to the 1950s, and a character on the “Howdy Doody” television show called Clarabelle the Clown. My little sister liked that ‘show’, and i saw far more of Clarabelle the Clown than i ever would have done voluntarily.


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About Davd

Davd (PhD, 1966) has been a professor, a single father keeping a small commercial herb garden so as to have flexible time for his sons, and editor of _Ecoforestry_. He is a practicing Christian, and in particular an advocate of ecoforestry, self-sufficiency horticulture, and men of all faiths living together "in peace and brotherhood" for the fellowship, the efficiency, and the goodwill that sharing work so often brings.
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