So-called nice people are usually considered a pleasure to work with, because they will rarely, if ever, say something that makes others uncomfortable. They will often do everything they can to not intentionally insult anyone or bring up sensitive topics that might upset others.
But this niceness can be superficial, and create festering passive aggressiveness, because underlying issues remain unaddressed. However, what we do not realize is that by not talking about sensitive topics, we allow for injustices to be perpetuated, which makes us, ironically enough, not nice at all.
Perhaps, then, we need to redefine the meaning of being nice, not as avoiding sensitive topics, but rather, knowing how to bring them up in the kindest way possible. This seems especially true in a community striving to function in a mode of learning. We learn the most both as individuals and as a community when a sensitive topic is brought up, the discussion of which causes temporary tension and discomfort, and the resolution of which causes an incredible jump in our common understanding.
I think that most people would agree with the above in theory, but that the practice is a whole other matter altogether. The excuse I often hear is that sensitive topics should be overlooked so as not to cause disunity; striving for unity therefore necessitates not making mention of them. Perhaps then we also need to redefine “being nice” not as a reason to avoid sensitive topics for the sake of unity, but rather as a tool to discuss these topics in a way that will strengthen the unity of our community. Being nice then does not mean not telling the truth; it means reflecting on what we want to say, and if it is truly for the sake of the group/community and not to soothe our ego, then putting the effort to say it lovingly, kindly, with wisdom and tact. This seems all the more important that community building requires unity of vision, and unity is attained through frank and honest consultations on all topics, including highly sensitive ones at time.
This will also help us move from a fragile, low level unity based on avoidance to a strong unity, tempered through sometimes difficult consultations on sensitive matters, which will help us carry forward an ever advancing civilization while keeping our egos in check.
So the next time someone compliments you on being nice, or if someone accuses you of being mean, take the time to think: are you actually being nice/mean? Or are you judging your niceness/meanness based solely on the other person’s reaction? And should you be one of those people that bring up sensitive topics as needed, thank you, and please, do drop me a line with your learnings on the matter.