Enough Nice!


It occurs to me that one of the many reasons for our society’s disintegration might be a misunderstanding of the Biblical injunction: Love Thy Neighbor.

The most obvious way that one loves his neighbor is by not harming him. Thus, if you learn a bit of juicy gossip about your neighbor, keep it to yourself, and manifest that love of neighbor by your silence. And, of course, if your neighbor is suffering in some way, try to alleviate that suffering if you can.

It’s a mistake to confuse "love" with "like." We are commanded to love our enemy, but it’s not expected that we like him. Indeed, we might quite understandably loathe the rascal, but, again, we love him by not hurting him, and helping him, la the Good Samaritan, if we find him in need of our help.

But these are religious concepts, thought to be important in an era when people believed that in loving their neighbors — even their enemies — they could obtain spiritual benefit. Today religion plays no role in society, but religious beliefs, like many strongly held beliefs, have a sort of inertia that propels them through history. So love of neighbor survives, but in a new, humanized form: Be Nice! Even religion (what’s left of it) has substituted a sort of bland tolerance and communality for genuine love of neighbor, so that, if you can’t stand the guy, you must still be "nice" to him. Phooey.

Frankly, I’ve had it with "nice." Why must I be afraid to tell the waiter that the food, about which he just enquired, was awful? Because it wouldn’t be nice to tell him the truth? Why must I tell the speaker how much I enjoyed his lecture, when I could simply pass by with a smile? Am I worried lest he think me not nice? Why do I allow my ear to be bent by some loquacious bore, when, with a smile and excuse, I could take my leave? Why is it that I must always be nice, while those who inflict themselves upon me never seem to think about how un-nice they are, from my point of view?

But such social situations are relatively unimportant. The habit of being "nice" becomes less than trivial when it involves public servants. Even though I am among that remnant of believers in Love Thy Neighbor, does that mean I must be "nice" to the snippy bureaucrat at the license bureau? Sure, if she has a seizure, I will help her; but does that obligate me to put up with her indifference and incompetence, simply for the sake of being nice? I don’t think so. In fact, if more of her customers (i.e., her victims) were less concerned with appearing nice and more concerned with insisting that she do her duties efficiently and well, she might come to realize that the proper attitude of a public servant is servility. Now THAT would be nice!

I gather from attorneys that, when dealing with higher-level bureaucrats, such as those involved with taxation, being nice is a good policy, lest you annoy the public servant so much that he unleashes the full force of his agency against you. (Perhaps this attitude stems from the lawyers’ oh-so-nice behavior toward judges, who can make their lives a living hell.) True, such actions may be unlawful, and not in accord with his agency’s own written guidelines, but so what? He can do it, and he will, if you’re not nice to him. I’ve pointed out that perhaps the very reason the bureaucrats can get away with treating their subjects so poorly is because the subjects are so confounded nice, but the only response I get is a shrug. "That’s just the way it is." Isn’t this exactly backwards? Isn’t it the servant who’s supposed to be nice to the master?

As one of the Christian remnant, I won’t harm my enemy, but can anyone tell me why I must be nice to him? I’m not going to punch him in the nose, or put sugar in his gas tank, but can’t I hold his feet to the fire, in a polite and gentle way? As a public servant, he is bound by a whole host of rules, and am I being nice, or merely foolish, in not holding him to them?

It would be better to be less concerned with being nice, and more concerned with demanding respect, and behaving so as to warrant that demand. Enough nice!

Dr. Hein [send him mail] is a retired ophthalmologist in St. Louis, and the author of All Work & No Pay.