I was talking to a friend yesterday about someone I know and she doesn't, and she said, "[That person] doesn't sound very nice."
It was a fair comment — the point of the story I was telling was about someone letting me down — but it flummoxed me. It had never occurred to me even to wonder whether that person, who is also someone I consider a friend, was or is nice.
: giving pleasure or joy : good and enjoyablePatrick Swayze aside, "nice" is more of an issue for women than for men. We are told to be nice even before we can walk. We can't ever get away from it, and it warps our place in the world in ways men don't always believe, even when we explain it clearly and compellingly. Within the past 24 hours I have read terrific essays on whether female literary protagonists (or their creators) need to be likable, and on the corrosive effects of sexual harassment in the world of comics. So much of all of that comes down to the ridiculous, irrelevant, murderous question: "Can't you just be nice?"
: attractive or of good quality
Nice is not anything I've ever looked for in a friend. I tend to prefer the company of the self-absorbed; most artists are, and frankly I find it restful. Many people (not all people, but most of my casual acquaintances), might say that I am "nice," and I'll tell you what that's gotten me: a lot of mentions in the acknowledgment pages of other people's books. At 48, if I had the chance to give my 16-year-old self some advice, what I would tell her is: Forget nice. Save yourself first.
That's not to say that we are not all obligated to be kind, or that we are not all obligated to pay attention to the wants and needs of others, and make compromises with the people we love. That's not niceness. Niceness has more to do with how we want others to perceive us, and the desire to avoid conflict or criticism. It's why the flight attendants tell us to put our own air masks on first, because that's not the "nice" thing to do.
One good thing from my hashing all this out here, at least, is that I'm no longer annoyed with the friend I was complaining about yesterday at all.