Nice: The word that doesn’t mean anything.

I used to use the word nice without really thinking about it, though I’ve never really LIKED the word. The Genius Husband on the other hand detests it. Being the philosophically trained mind that he is, he is bothered by the misuse of words, and the constant use of poorly defined words. Needless to say, when talking to him it is important to get one’s terms straight, and know what you mean by them when you use them. I have become much more precise in this last decade than ever before.

So back to nice. Nice is a word that can be used in several situations, which makes it quite useful, but which also strips it of meaning anything at all. Moms use the word nice I think more than any other group. “Now honey, play nice…be nice…wasn’t that nice…does that feel nice…oh this is nice, do you like this?” It goes on, but I think you catch my drift. A long time ago, when I had time to do such things, I looked up nice in the Oxford dictionary. It used to be used to describe the peculiarly specific routines of patients in mental hospitals. One used to say that someone is too nice if they were too picky, demanding, particular, exacting etc.

Now I know that language is always evolving and meaning and use change as time goes by but on this one word I was willing to agree to the Genius Husband’s requests that it go unused in our family. It was hard to get out of the habit at first, and I would often catch myself for a second wondering what it was that I really wanted to say, but as I persisted I found words that I rarely hear any more that for me have so much more depth and richness; words like generous, thoughtful, kind, caring, compassionate, good, gentle.

Do I really want my child to be nice to other children or do I want to tell him to be kind to others. Do I want him to be nice, or to be generous with his possessions? I felt as though I had walked into a broader and deeper way of talking to my child and myself about the person I hope he becomes. As I try to instill in him, and now his sister and this child who will soon join us, good character and inner strength, I realize the main problem with the word nice is that it is not a character trait or personal quality, but a surface type of interaction that may or may not be genuine. I am thankful for the things I have learned in abolishing that little four-letter word from my vocabulary.

I thought I’d share because tonight at dinner the Boy said to me after thanking me for making such a yummy dinner and getting my water for me, “I’m such a thoughtful guy mom, because that’s what four-year-old boys are supposed to be, and I’m four so I can do that for you.”

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One thought on “Nice: The word that doesn’t mean anything.

  1. A book I love that talks about the difference between “nice” and “kind” that I love is called A Short Course In Kindness, by Margot Silk Forrest. It sort of said exactly what you said, but in an expanded way.

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