An Aggressive Defence of Nice People


Someday my father and I are going to co-write a novel. We’ve been talking about it for years now. We are considering the epistolary form. The content will be largely autobiographical and we shall take a wry look at society and its conventions. Our own treatment as largely unsuccessful literary layabouts will be suitably ironic.

I have been collecting characters for our novel and I thought it was high time to write an aggressive defence of one of my most cherished prototypes: the nice person.

Since I’ve been in Berlin I’ve had the advantage of meeting lots of new people, many of whom vary substantially on a spectrum of pleasantness.

I have a “breaking news” example. I’m writing from my local library, where I am perched comfortably at a round table with my back to a radiator and a view to a study area.

Just now, my train of thought was interrupted by a booming voice. I looked up to see a large man approach a desk where two young girls, one in a floral headscarf and the other with a stripy jumper were studying.

“How DARE you talk in a library” he yelled. “This is supposed to be a QUIET area. The ImPERTINENCE. How DARE you?”

The girls’ faces were frozen with terror while his was red with vitriol.

Jumping in the air in defence of nice people in Philadelphia, almost a year ago.

“HAVE I MADE MYSELF UNDERSTOOD?”

They nodded.

I had not even been aware of so much as a whisper from the girls. But I was certainly interrupted by this foul-mouthed miscreant, who had taken library discipline into his own hands.

(By the way, I take respectful behaviour in libraries very seriously and absolutely believe in regulation. But in this case the offence was minor and the intervention disproportionate and without mandate.)

Nice people, thankfully, are not in short supply. They are the ones that instinctively apologise when you step on their toe and spend hours nodding sympathetically even when confronted by a dull narrative.

They are the cashiers that give you an extra nod when you’ve completed your purchase and the reporters that say “Oh don’t worry, I was useless at the start” when you display incompetence.

They are the people that do not recoil when a foul-smelling and batty woman sits next to them on the bus and the ones that engage in mini sprints to catch up with you when you’ve dropped a mitten.

Nice people, contrary to the individualist-inspired meme, do not (necessarily) end up on welfare.

Nice people are mostly self-consciously so. They have weighed up the cost of an unpleasant smell and dull conversation against the happy after-glow of having been pleasant. It’s moral mathematics.

Nice people are not walk-overs either. Sometimes they will startle you with their outrage or righteous indignation.

Nice people are sometimes quiet but that does not mean they are taciturn or shy. They are watchful. If you adopt a scornful and derisive tone, they will greet you with a steely silence. The effect is something in between disregard and non-compliance.

In our novel, the nice people won’t end up on welfare. And if they do, it will be very generous.

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16 thoughts on “An Aggressive Defence of Nice People

      • Reading Terminal is great! I’ll have to look out for those brownies (now is the time we usually see pumpkin treats around here). I’m glad to hear that my fellow Philadelphians were nice (and that your sister is one of us!). I was born and raised here, went away for college and law school, and then came back to raise my family. I love it here.

  1. You reminded me of an incident on a commuter train last year. A man loudly ripped into two girls for playing their music too loudly. We hadn’t been aware of the music, be we were certainly aware of his racist, expletive filled rant. Unfortunately, the girls lost the moral high ground a bit when they spat at him just before the transit police arrived.

    • Hey there! Thanks for stopping by! Was Skyping home earlier and they told me they had a lovely chat with you! Will keep a look-out for your son 🙂 Berlin’s a really exciting place to be!! Hope you had fun last night!

  2. I love this post of yours because I am a closet nice person myself. I will hold a door open, grab something for someone if it dropped, or just engage in a conversation to lighten someones mood. Nice people are the reason why when I’m traveling I can have an even greater time, because of their kindness they gave me.

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