Why You Should Stop Calling People ‘Nice’


I propose that there are two, very different definitions of the word “nice.” There’s the true meaning of the word, which is something closer to “kind” or “thoughtful,” which I have no issue with. People actually call me nice in this sense all the time (usually people who don’t know me too well, but that’s a separate issue). Then, we have the colloquial meaning of the word, which can really only be understood if qualified with literal or verbal quotation marks, as in:

-Do you know Max? 

-Not really, but he seems… nice.

In this sense, nice might actually be the worst possible thing a person can call another person. It connotes the absence of any distinctive or remarkable quality, the lack of any personality trait to latch onto other than a generally not-off-putting demeanor.  I only describe people as “nice” when I literally cannot think of one strong feeling I’ve ever had towards them, positive or negative. This is a truly rare situation, because I am absurdly observant of people’s idiosyncrasies, but sadly, it does happen from time to time. To those I’ve deemed “nice” in the past, consider this my formal, one-time-only apology.

TIME recently published a poll, asking readers to vote on which word they wish would be banned in 2015. I would like to submit a write-in: the word “nice.” No one wants to be called nice, and therefore no one should call anyone else nice. Really, it just shows a lack of syntactical creativity on the speaker’s part, in addition to a complete disregard for the complexity of the human condition. (Also, side note, I invite you all to check out the poll, and to vote in it, because as of yesterday the word “feminist” was winning, and that is just not okay.)

Once you stop calling everyone else nice, I have another radical proposition: Stop being nice. Stop giving anyone a reason to call you nice. I’m a stage manager and theatre producer, and if theatre has taught me one thing, it’s how interesting life is when everyone is open with their thoughts. I know exactly where I stand with everyone I work with, and the very last word I would use to describe any of them would be “nice.” Further, I would consider it an insult to hear any of them call me nice. I assert my opinions; I tell people exactly what I need them to do and ask why they’re not doing it. I praise them only when praise is deserved: Compliments are meaningful, but nice comments come largely from a desire to seem agreeable. “Agreeable” people make me want to vomit. We all totally know that “nice” girl (or guy, but let’s be honest, it’s mostly girls), who never offends anyone but also never really makes any impression whatsoever on anyone.

Recently, one of my best friends said that I was “just not a nice person.” Perhaps it was meant as an insult, but it’s completely true, and I couldn’t be prouder of not being nice, because it means I make impressions on other people.

Sometimes I blatantly glare at people who are rude to me. Sometimes I get weirdly excited to take the GRE. Sometimes I still watch Arthur, even though I’m twenty-one years old, and when I do, I’m not ashamed to tell everyone about it. I ask for what I want, and you know what? People usually give it to me. Maybe it goes against everything we’ve been taught, but it’s actually easier to interact with people when you don’t think they’re perfect robots. Because it’s hard to respect someone whose main character trait is “nice,” but it’s easy to understand someone’s opinions and flaws and love them anyway.