In a world that often sacrifices good behavior for the sake of getting and staying ahead, what would happen if we were consistently nice? That’s the premise of The Meaning of Nice: How Compassion and Civility Can Change Your Life (and the World). The book explores the hidden power of nice—the advantages of being kind, caring, generous, and polite.
But nice as I define it doesn’t mean the saccharine, cringe-worthy behavior that immediately makes us wary: “What does he want?” “What is she up to?” The new nice is something richer, “a cloak of kindness to wrap around ourselves in a cold, cruel world.” Character, in other words.
Chapter by chapter, the book builds a case for the better side of our nature:
- A Checkered Past
A tongue-in-cheek examination of the word nice, tracing its origins and 10 centuries of evolution from its bawdy start to a more decorous present.
- Nice Deconstructed
Nice as seen through the lenses of philosophy, psychology, neuroscience, etiquette, and common sense. Drawing on insights from experts and the results of the Nice Survey, I determine that nice is not so much a single characteristic as a complex of positive qualities. Niceness is democratic in scope: Its exemplars range from His Holiness the Dalai Lama and Bishop Tutu to Kate Middleton, Duchess of Cambridge, and actress Natalie Portman.
- Heaven Is Other People
Nice as a far-reaching social skill, smoothing all our interactions with others. Cultivating compassion and generosity, integrity and good manners, forgiveness and respect not only makes us happier and more successful but also makes us catnip to just about everyone around us.
- Why Manners Matter
This it the chapter you’d love to skip. Don’t. “Manners are a kind of diplomacy, a way of navigating through the endless loops and loopholes of our polyform, multicultural life.”
- Love, Love Me Do
Intimate relations can be minefields. But the care and concern that go into being nice play out in warmer, closer partnerships. (Not to mention a better sex life.) Find out why couples who play nicely together stay together longer.
- Kindness Goes to Work
Forget “nice guys (and girls) finish last.” Nice has the power to improve the workplace environment and propel you toward the corner office. Research shows that in hiring, more and more employers rank a pleasing personality above superior skills.
- Digital Life
The radioactive chapter. Everybody’s going to find something to hate as I traverse the terrain of social networking and the cellphone/Internet culture. Basically, this is my plea for more considered and considerate use of technology. I take to heart the finding that kids today overwhelmingly feel ignored by parents who put talking, tweeting, texting, and email before interacting with their young.
- Too Nice for Your Own Good
Helicopter moms, compulsive overworkers, and martyrs, beware. What you take to be loving may border on the pathological. Yes, you can be too nice. Consider the surprisingly large number of brides and grooms who end up unhappily married because they were too embarrassed to call it all off once the wedding mechanism was in gear.
- Conclusion: Are We Nice Yet?
Maybe. Maybe not. But we have a broader understanding of what it means to be nice, and we can choose to be nicer or not. All in all, the book concludes, “The nicest people are simply those who haven’t forgotten our essential kinship as human beings.”
The Meaning of Nice: How Compassion and Civility Can Change Your Life (and the World) is available from Amazon (amazon.com), Barnes & Noble (barnesandnoble.com), Powell’s Books (powells.com), and your local bookseller.