Thursday, December 02, 2004

No more Ms Nice-guy

It should come as no surprise that the recent Bush visit to Canada has raised my dander to sky-high levels. And the news coverage – which followed every little studiedly self-deprecating aside, insincere thank you, announcement of lifelong friendship and family style American/Canadian love, and deft insertion of missile defense shield politicking into otherwise meaningless twaddle – didn’t do anything to settle said dander southward.
But what really froze my frostables – other than the much-reported south of the border punning on icey Canadian clichés – was the aura of ‘nice’ the President wore like a halo, as he hypocritically glad-handed his way around our customarily cold capitol city, thawing various and sundry with his warm and winning personality.
The man was making a mockery of ‘nice’.
I should know. ‘Nice’ – acting it, showing it, being it – is my thing. And I can trace my association to it with near pinpoint accuracy.
It was on some long-cancelled sitcom, a long, long time ago that I recall a character who got all tongue tied trying to compliment another character; a character of such blinding wholesomeness and goodness, that it was as though the word ‘nice’ had been created especially and lovingly and particularly just for them.
(And in fact, if it indeed wasn’t created especially for them, God himself might pop into his own personal WayBack machine - what’s a little time and space manipulation to the Almighty? – and make sure that for ever and all time, when the word ‘nice’ came up, this character would get a nickel in residuals or at least a footnote for credit.)
“It’s nice,” said the tongue-tied character. “Yes – it’s nice to be nice… to the…nice…”
Were truer words ever spake? I didn’t think so, and subsequently took this shred of episodic televised wisdom and applied it to my entire life. If the nice were going to attract all that reciprocal niceness, I thought, I’d better make it my business to get me some. And to be sure, there were other reasons – a really nice mum for instance, and being Canadian for sure; but whatever the order, the decision was made. And so began a lifetime of endless, stultifying, crippling niceness.
Yes, as fellow good girls and boys will tell you, a lifetime devoted to the pursuit of ultimate niceousity is a lifetime at least half (if not wholly) wasted. Forget taking five minutes off for a little resentment or righteous anger; disabuse yourself of the notion that there will be times when there will be no repercussions for a little blowing off of understandably pent up steam – once nice, always nice. Or else. That’s the rule. That’s the law. That’s the fact.
And nice don’t get no respect. Anyone already shaking and nodding their heads with all the bouncy fervour of a backseat bobble-head, can back me up on this one: to take on the mantle of nice means forever to have signed up on a one-way deal with the delightful. For if the once nice ever attempt even a mini-meltdown, those experiencing the fallout will forever afford the formerly nice an extremely wide berth.
Folk seem to like familiarity, even if that familiarity comes with a side of scary or mean. The scary and mean will never surprise you – and even if they do, by being unaccountably nice every now and then, no one’s ever going to consider re-stereotyping them; mean’s mean – mean will revert to mean just as soon as it’s able. Comfortingly, dependably, familiarly.
Tough, scary and mean get respect – get raises and promotions – get elected. And possibly worst of all, get to put on or remove the mantle of nice whenever it suits them. It’s as though chameleon-like, the rules are different for them, and gravity, E-MC2 and Gold’s Law (if the shoe fits, it’s ugly) seem somehow suspended, or even reversed… just for them.
Take George Bush. (Please!) A friend of mine was at the big dinner in Ottawa Tuesday night and met the fellow himself; exchanged a couple of words with him, got a compliment and enjoyed a plate full of Alberta beef and cheesy mashed potatoes.
“You’d like him,” she said. And of that I have no doubt; it wouldn’t be the first time I’d been charmed by someone I’d normally consider on par with the Devil.
It happened when I was invited into former Premier Mike Harris’s home and was thoroughly beguiled by the man and his wife.
(For those wondering why I didn’t use the opportunity to share a few home truths with him, give him the critique I’d been bleating about for years outside of his hearing – or notice – I have to say I have always believed that if you want to say appalling things, those things should be shouted from the sidewalk, pushed through the mail slot, or written on a paper bag full of flaming dog poo deposited on the welcome mat. It’s simply not appropriate to wait until you have a full glass of red wine and are seated cozily on their rumpus room chesterfield. I may not be Miss Manners, but I know what’s what; it may actually be the exclusive territory of the nice to know how to handle similarly awkward rumpus room situations. Be nice – or be gone.)
And the payoffs for being nice do exist. First and foremost, people will call you nice. They might even tell others tales of your niceness and for the most part will be nice to you in return. Who wants to slap a kitten square in the face? Who wants to shout boo! at a baby? Who wants to club a crying seal?
And therein lies the rub: while most people don’t wish to do any of those awful things, there are many who take a particular pleasure in doing just that. And many more who are either completely indifferent, or simply see them as possibly necessary actions at some undisclosed future time or other. And if the nice continue to play by the rules, the only appropriate response is whimpering, howling, or rolling over and playing dead.
Up to now, with a few rare exceptions, I’ve carried on a rather seamless version of day to day niceness – and I’ve got all the resentment, bottled up rage and sense of mounting futility you’d expect. So far, I’ve kept most of my anger enclosed within the confines of my Mazda 323 – the air blue not with cigarette smoke, but with foul language, epithets and threats to the drivers who seem bent on irritating, putting out, cutting in or somehow or other thwarting me from my daily rounds. I surprise myself with the whip-fast nature of this auto anger; if measured, I’d no doubt have evidence of a pretty good aerobic workout what with the constant raising and lowering of my reactionary heart rate.
Solution? I don’t know. But I don’t want to be the modern day Mikey anymore (ask Jane – she’ll do anything) smiling through disappointment, excusing myself to people who grind their stilettoed heels into my blameless aching arches, or thanking someone for a patently patronizing comment.
But it’s not because I want to become tougher or meaner or stronger; I leave that to the presidents, premiers and taxicab cutter-inners.
It’s because being so cravenly dishonest actually isn’t very nice at all.

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