When did "nice" become a dirty word?


I’ve read several articles recently that described the difference between the words nice and kind. In short, the nice person is described as an inauthentic people pleaser with low self-esteem, who's driven by her need to be validated by others, can't accept criticism, and ends up angry and bitter. Wow! I don't know about you, but I was offended. After all, I like to think I'm a pretty nice person. So, when did nice become a dirty word, anyway?

Coincidentally, or maybe not, around that same time I received an article for my spring newsletter, written by my old high-school friend Holly Bea (author of several award-winning books). Earlier in the year, I had asked if she'd like to write something for me, and I gave her free rein. Guess what? Her article was all about being NICE!

I immediately turned to the dictionary and discovered that the word nice comes from an Old English word meaning foolish, ignorant, fussy or finicky. Oh dear! However, by the 1700s the word had come to mean pleasant or pleasing. The current definition for nice includes: polite, kind, friendly, virtuous, of good quality, done very well, enjoyable, pleasant, and pleasing. These are all fantastic qualities, but the problem arises when they're FAKE (2017 word of the year) and used to manipulate others. One can display many of these outward behaviors, but inwardly have thoughts of low self-worth, anger and/or resentment. The motives can turn nice into a dirty word.

On the other hand, the word kind can mean: benevolent, loving, gentle, and considerate. It's difficult to feign kindness, although some do. Once again, these traits can be worn as a mask to disguise one's true intentions. So, my conclusion is that being nice or kind for the wrong reasons is not a good thing, but being both nice and kind for the right reasons is a winning combination. I plan to continue being nice and kind as often as possible!

Enough of my ramblings. Now I'd like to share a beautiful story that Holly wrote for me. I hope her words touch your heart, and inspire you to show a little more kindness in your daily interactions.


Embracing Beaver Cleaver

I recently returned from my first visit to Barbados, a small island on the very edge of the Caribbean, closest to Africa and a 3.5 hour flight from Miami. My husband has a business partner there, we had airline miles and hotel points expiring, and were ready to get out of the Colorado cold for a week.  I knew they had beautiful beaches, gorgeous water, sea turtles to snorkel with, and lots of sunshine.  While all of that was true, I also found something unexpected.

From the moment we landed, we were struck by just how NICE everyone was.  This went way beyond the usual “Let’s be nice to the tourists” nice.  Every time we even hesitated on a sidewalk, traffic would stop and let us cross.  The local drivers were honking their horns constantly—not in anger or fits of road rage, but to honk “hello” to other drivers, or see if we needed a lift.  If they wanted to turn left, and there was a long line of traffic in the lane they needed to cross, a driver would immediately stop and let them cross.  This was astonishing to my aggressive-driving husband, to say the least.

Every local we passed on the beach or sidewalk smiled and greeted us.  Every hotel employee bent over backward to not just do their jobs, but to start conversations with us.  Every morning my hotel maid left me a lovely note, telling me to have a blessed day.   When we happened to run into a woman (Ellie) who had waited on our table at a restaurant two days before, she remembered our names, gave us a hug and invited us to come sit at her table that night at a different restaurant.  When my husband first tasted the island’s famous hot sauce (which most tourists couldn’t handle) and asked for more, the kitchen staff presented him with a bottle of the stuff at the end of our meal as a gift!

At first, this was startling.  It felt like I was being thrown back to the 50s and 60s when good manners were prevalent in the United States. Where we watched Leave it to Beaver, the ultimate morality play.  Where you got in trouble if you didn’t say “Yes, Ma’am” and "Thank you, Sir.” And you knew you did not want to grow up to be an Eddie Haskell.

I started complimenting the locals I encountered in Barbados, admiring their good manners and appreciating how kind everyone was.  And they all shared the same thing.  They all told me that they went to church every week.  That they raised their children to honor their elders, to use good manners, to help others and be polite.  My hotel maid said, that if children misbehaved out of your sight, your neighbor would tell you about it, so they couldn’t get away with anything.  One cab driver said that if you misbehaved as a child, you were bringing dishonor to your family.  I heard this over and over again.

It was amazing to be in a society that was so happy, so supportive, so polite and peaceful.

I’ve been home a few weeks now.  Back to the vitriolic posts on Facebook, the snarky comments by many of our leaders, the questionable accuracy of some “so-called” news articles. We’ve had many conversations with friends and clients about how awful things are, how helpless they feel, how frightened they are for our nation.

But my time in Barbados has taught me that the answer can be pretty simple.

We can be kind.

Yes, we need to tackle some pretty serious issues in America.  We need to write letters to our representatives, join committees, support nonprofits, run for office.  But more importantly, we need to embrace Beaver Cleaver again.

But why not start with being be polite and courteous to EVERYONE?  Not just our friends or the people who believe the way we do.  It can be as simple as letting someone cut in front of you in traffic with a wave instead of a finger. It can be a choice to smile at people who cross your path, instead of focusing on the electronic device.  It can be as big as offering to help out a single mom, donating to a stranger on Go Fund Me, or apologizing to that relative that offended you 20 years ago.

And you don’t have to be a churchgoer to do this.  Christians don’t have a corner on the nice.  Anyone can make a choice to be Beaver Cleaver.  To live the way we’re supposed to, instead of the way we can get away with.

Is it naïve for me to think that if I’m nice I can change the world?  Maybe.  But if enough of us say, “enough,” and step forward with kindness, polite behavior and consideration, it just might save us.


Holly Bea is a freelance advertising copywriter and the author of seven award-winning children’s books, including Good Night God, Where Does God Live?, and Lucy Goose Goes to Texas. Check them out on Amazon. They’re all ideal stories for teaching your children to be nice and kind, for real!


holly bea


© Bobbi Mullins 2011, All rights reserved. FOOD FITNESS FAITH™