I remember a year ago I got this amazing letter from a young lady who had read some things I had to say about bullying, and the letter was so beautiful and amazing, and so scary too, because she was this brilliant young girl with great values and a good family and all the things I wasn't born with, and she seemed to be in a really precarious situation, like, "On the one hand I trust that you know what you're talking about, but on the other hand I'm not sure how to use what you're saying." I can't say it broke my heart or whatever because that takes away her agency, and again, this is a girl with every tool and the brains to get there so it was more of a painful snapshot of one very recognizable part of growing up, surrounded with a shitload of hope.
And the thing I learned from the action of responding to the letter is that I had forgotten what a poisonous cancer "nice" can be. That we're socialized -- tortured -- into this borderline personality disorder, as a culture, that says everything is all good or all bad, and that if you're not nice you're a bitch, but then the definition of "nice" keeps expanding and expanding until it includes ever doing anything that someone else doesn't agree with, it includes having opinions, having a voice, it eventually includes knowing and trusting yourself. To be nice is to apologize for existing. And what I said -- actually, here's the thing, if I'm going to be obnoxiously quoting myself anyway -- is what I still have to keep reminding myself every day, which is that "nice" and "kind" are such different concepts that they may as well be opposites.
You think they're synonyms and you act like they're synonyms, but the truth is that one turns outward, into the world as a positive force, and one turns inward, as a self-injury. As a dampening of the light. And I still sometimes have to get this basic on myself when I'm making choices: Am I being Nice, or am I being Kind? Because I think I am a very kind person, a compassionate person, but I wouldn't -- and I don't think anyone who's ever met me would -- ever call me Nice.
And this is how I'm feeling about Alicia right now, this year, this week: She's still trying to figure out where Nice ends and Kind begins, and she's had forty years of people, men and the women who regurgitate their words, telling her there is no difference. If they sell you the idea that Nice is a virtue, they can intimidate you with the whole world; if you buy the idea that Nice is your virtue -- c.v. GCB, which honestly I love -- you can justify any cruelty you do. So whenever Alicia does anything, Kind or even just Neutral, there's still this inner voice going, "Was that nice? Am I still nice? Can I still think of myself as nice?"