Somewhere along the way, “being nice” became a supreme virtue in the United States.  In fact, I think it may have taken the place of it’s predecessor … “being tolerant.”  I never liked the word “tolerant”, and I’ve come to dislike the word “nice” for the same reasons I cringed at “tolerant”

“Tolerant” is an easy virtue to dislike, not because I think we should insulate ourselves from those who aren’t like us.  Not because I’m racist, homophobic, or a religious bigot.  I don’t like that word because all it does is ask us to “put up” with differences.  I’m a white, heterosexual male.  I don’t tolerate African Americans.  I don’t tolerate homosexuals.  I don’t tolerate women.  Tolerate is something you do with an annoying younger sibling.  Tolerate is what you do when you’re stuck in traffic and can’t do anything about it.

I open my heart to understanding a person and perspective that I can only see if I’m willing to put myself in someone else’s shoes.  I don’t expect them to teach me (that’s not their job).  But I do ask them questions and I listen to their responses because I’m interested in loving, understanding and celebrating differences, not just tolerate the differences.  I celebrate my LGBTQ friends, POC, and religious diversity because I’m doing more than tolerate, I’m learning.

“Nice” is equally as empty a term.

As a funeral director, I’m expected to be supremely nice.  Like, the nicest person ever.  Like, picture the nicest person you know and then double their niceness is the kind of nice funeral directors are supposed to have.  And there was a point in my career that I thought “being nice” was one of the main parts of my job.  But, no longer.

I stopped being a nice funeral director when I saw how nice people tend to be enablers.

I stopped being a nice funeral director when I saw how nice people can’t communicate personal boundaries.

I stopped being a nice funeral director because I learned how to say “no.”

I stopped being a nice funeral director when I saw nice people getting burned out in this industry.

I stopped being a nice funeral director when I saw that grieving people don’t actually want a nice funeral director.

I stopped being nice when I saw how it’s as fake as the “how are you doing?” greeting.

Nice is what rich people are when they’re dealing with poor people.  It’s the next step after tolerance.  It’s tolerance, but with a smile on top.  It’s what a CEO is when he does some PR with his minimum wage workers.  It’s what white people are when they go to third-world countries.  It’s how you act when a salesman calls your phone.

“Nice” is an okay virtue, but it’s so far down my list of important virtues, I don’t even try anymore.

I do, however, try to be empathetic, recognizing and embracing the humanity in those around me.

I do try to be vulnerable by making myself open to different perspectives, and honest about my own.

I try to be intelligent and educated, so that I know what I know and — more importantly — know what I don’t know.

I try to be present, fully engaged with the person(s) I’m talking to (And I’ll admit, this one is the one I fail at the most).

I try to be welcoming and hospitable by enabling people to be themselves around me and not what they think they should be around me.

I also to be true to myself and set healthy boundaries for my personal life and family.

But nice?  Nah.  I’m not trying to give off the impression that I’m nice.  In fact, when people describe me, I hope “nice” is one of the last words they use, because I’m no longer trying to be a nice person or a nice funeral director.  I’m pretty sure it’s one of the least important virtues if it’s a virtue at all.



If you like my writing, consider buying my 2017 Nautilus Book Award Gold Winner, Confession of a Funeral Director (click the image to go to the Amazon page):

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