One of the great philosophical voices of this generation once said: “There’s only two types of people in the world.” Yep, that was Britney Spears. She went on to split humanity into two factions: “the ones that entertain, and the ones that observe.” I am in full agreement with the principle she proposes here, but I’d split the human race in a different way.
One of my favourite crime writers, Sophie Hannah, wrote about a caste system developed by children in her book Kind of Cruel, where the three castes are Kind, Cruel and Kind of Cruel. The children in this book (read it, it’s great) categorise their classmates according to their behaviour, and choose their friends accordingly. This is a process that takes place in secret, and is a response to the children learning about real social castes. They perceive their own caste system as fairer than any other that has existed, because one’s behaviour is under one’s own control, and is the product of individual choices.
My two categories, Nice and Not So Nice are, admittedly, simpler. But I would argue that they sum up precisely what you need to know about people.
I know that the word nice has got a bit of a reputation as a lukewarm word of praise. I’m sure many of us have used it in the following way: “well, they are very nice….” We know that tailing off at the end reveals an unspoken ‘but’ that really undermines the sentiment. Nice can mean “blandly inoffensive”, “very dull indeed”, or even “there’s something weird or odd that I haven’t quite figured out yet, but I’m pretty sure I’m not imagining it”. Nice can be an affirmation, or show approval: “You won? Nice!” Nice can also mean hideous, awful, rude: “She hung up on me!” “Nice.” It’s a great word for being sarcastic: “Nice trousers.” For the sake of my caste system, I don’t mean nice in any of these ways.
My definition of nice involves compassion, kindness and empathy. It also means being fun, entertaining, supportive, warm, and jolly. A nice person is someone you want to spend time with. Nice people are not necessarily saints- some of the nicest people I know have a pretty sharp edge, but that makes them perhaps even more fun to be around. I know some lovely people who might be thinking that they aren’t nice by my definition. I can assure you now: you are. I know some people who scored pretty highly on the psychopath tests that were going round not that long ago; hey, you are still nice. You might be grumpy and even borderline murderous from time to time, but you can’t hide your inner niceness from me. So there.
Not So Nice people are unpleasant, cruel and mean-spirited. They might be bullies, snobs, or trolls. They might just show a complete lack of sensitivity or awareness of other people’s feelings. They might be cruel to animals, or rude to waitresses. They are probably aggressive drivers, and patronising tourists. They think that rules don’t apply to them. They jump queues, and reek of entitlement. No matter who you are or where you come from, if you behave like this, you will end up on the Not So Nice list.
Whether I like you or not depends entirely on whether you are Nice or Not So Nice. It’s not that I don’t care about other ‘distinguishing’ facets of your identity: your race, your religion, your sexuality, your gender, your political affiliation, your social status… Those things might be important to you, and I’m not going to dismiss them. It’s just that they won’t have a bearing on whether I like you or not. Are you nice? That’s the important question.
But here’s the thing- like the Kind of Cruel model, in mine you can move from one to the other. You can change your ways, if you want. You aren’t condemned for eternity. If you are judged only on behaviour and deeds, well, those can change. You can be promoted or demoted accordingly. I won’t hold past behaviour against you forever. Do you know why? Because that isn’t nice. (I might be a bit wary for a while, but that’s just sensible.)
Once you boil them down to their philosophical fundamentals, aren’t all religions about trying to be Nice rather than Not So Nice? Or have I just invented a religion? That’s a pretty big achievement for a Sunday afternoon…
If I have just invented a religion, go forth and spread the word. Join in with random acts of kindness. Pay a compliment to someone. Pass it on, and pay it forward. Let’s celebrate our niceness and proclaim it to the world. Let’s make positive social media feedback more powerful than trolling. Let’s do that so much that it gets a nickname- I’m going to propose the word ‘elfing’ as the opposite of trolling, so feel free to help that catch on. ‘Be an elf, not a troll’- yeah, that works. And the T shirts will be cute. As Britney says, “Don’t stand there watching me- follow me, show me what you can do”.
Here endeth today’s lesson, from the Book of Hannah. Peace and love x