Trying to be nice


Why is it so hard to be nice sometimes?

Last week, I got to volunteer at my daughter’s elementary school library to read an excerpt from a book written on the subject of bullying to her class. Apparently, there is an annual, week-long campaign where schools across the country, at least the public ones, try to raise awareness about bullying and give kids practical strategies for combating it.

As a parent, I’m the kind that dreads my kid getting picked on, because I know how much it hurts. It takes effort for me to be cool and neutral in order to teach them how to deflect, not take it personally, and be able to see the one lashing out as the one to pity. It’s not easy for me, and therefore not easy to teach. But I try. I can be very tough, in many ways, but this kind of tough is a real challenge for me.

I also dread the thought of my kid being the mean one. I feel like I have failed, or somehow that I’ll be found out for having the mean and nasty kid, judged and ostracized by parents. Even writing it down on the page makes it so much easier to see how ridiculous that particular fear is. Not only do I have pretty awesome kids, but my kids and I HAVE been judged by many families in our 10 years of pre/school, and I have long since cared what others think.

Don’t get me wrong, my kids have been the mean ones, too, to each other, if not to someone at school.

Everyone is mean at some point, because everyone is insecure about or afraid of something.

It’s sad, isn’t it? Everyone is insecure, or afraid. I stand by that statement, and believe it to be true. EVERYone.

As I read the “guidelines” about reading for the Red Ribbon Week anti-bullying campaign, I was struck by the heavy emphasis on “this, not that.” The guidelines pass over mean, rude, insulting behavior as just part of a bad day, but to earn the term “bullying” the behavior has to be intentional and sustained over time. Now, I know that sustained bullying is serious, and don’t intend to diminish it here, but since when have these other behaviors become utterly non-alarming?

What is so hard about being nice??

I know I’m not nice all the time. In passing, during one of the Burns Vietnam War installments on PBS, someone commented on how violence was part of human nature. I was taken aback at first, but I think he was right. It may not be a dominant part, but it is a part, just like meanness is, just like peacefulness is, just like compassion is.

I don’t have any answers. Just like you, I’m trying to find ways to be nicer, to be calmer, more compassionate. Just like many of you, I’m trying to teach my children the same, by example, and sometimes by yelling when they’re being mean and I lose my sh*t. I know, not the best strategy. But I wonder, when will we ever get to an optimal balance of nice versus mean in our individual make ups? And in our communities?

Where there is real cause for fear, those imbalances and injustices must be fought. Where there is insecurity? Somehow, we need to keep trying to convince people that to help each other makes everyone stronger, and stop glorifying mindless competition.