Tuesday, April 14, 2015


I have concluded that I am trying to understand two, and perhaps three separate phenomenon about Nice People, which causes it all to be muddled.  I will regroup and try again.  In the meantime, a few things occurred to me today.

Jumping off from terri's Southern Ladies, who sorta fit my description but don't quite, I went looking for some other equivalent.  The southern ladies who drop racist explosions in the cloakroom might think of themselves as nice people and thus are similar.  Yet I think if one told them they weren't being nice they would acknowledge that, however many excuses and ignorant rationales they put forward. They would agree these were insulting things to say about black people - just deserved.  My Nice People do not understand what you are saying when you challenge them. They are so focused on who they are being nice to and defending that they do not even see that this constitutes and attack on someone else.

One analogy that occurred to me is those folks who are always concerned with What Is Going On In The Schools, and finding covert satanic influences or softening the kiddies up for impending dictatorship. These days it's the belief that Common Core is not merely misguided education, but some active attempt to inculcated dangerous values in children.  They start with some very real complaints and concerns, but lead you into this constricted maze of reasoning soon enough. Some go so far as to forbid CS Lewis and Tolkien because of MAGIC!!! and put forth Medieval rather than biblical theology in support of this.  As no one is really much of a fundamentalist anymore, not even the cults, this oversensitivity is something of a positional good of more-Bible-believing-than-thou. (The link describes PC as a positional good, but I think it applies to fundies quite nicely. Useful concept.) At some point you start shaking your head and say "Do you realise you are not just calling these other people wrong and thoughtless, but satanic and evil?  Do you really think that?" And the answer is not an embarrassed evasion but an oblivious one: Satan uses many methods, children are especially vulnerable, this world is headed toward catastrophe...

You just can't get them to the point of what terrible things they are saying about others, and do they mean that?

My Nice People are more like that.  There is a competitive niceness that drove them into ministry or social work.

I may sort all this out in the next few weeks.  Maybe not.


bs king said...

I might be tracking with this, or I might not be. I'm curious if you've ever checked out the Enneagram. It's a personality test, but less "I'm okay you're okay" and more "we're all screwed up in different directions.

There's a type on there (Type 9) called the Peacemaker, which initially doesn't sound screwed up at all. However the description makes it clear that these are the people who will try to minimize problems or upsetting things in order to maintain peace at all costs, and if not kept in check will quickly sacrifice fairness to keep things calm. They can also lash out unknowingly at those who continue to threaten their peace.

I have one in my personal life. Call her Person A. Another friend (now somewhat distant) Person B got in to a time of stress, lashed out at several of my friends and had a huge meltdown. Lots of tears, bizarre accusations and general BPD like behavior. She cried a lot to Person A, who decided it was her job to "make peace". Those who had been the target of the lash outs were "gently" told by Person A that they should apologize to Person B, it would mean a lot to her, she was scared they all hated her, etc. The others (there were a few, call them Group C) flatly refused to be the one to apologize when they had been wrongly accused of lots of things and done nothing to cause the meltdown.

It was interesting to me, but not unexpected, that Person A escalated at Group C. She could not understand at all why her compromise was offensive to them and got rather upset. I got brought in to explain it to her, because sometimes people ask me to do things like that. I used the Enneagram explanation a lot to frame that conversation. My basic thesis was "you are trying to create peace and harmony when it is not warranted. When bad behavior is actually occurring, people shouldn't feel at peace. This is what causes things like the Catholic priest scandal". I think some of it got through (she laid off Group C), but if you asked her to retell the whole story now, she most certainly changes key facts to make the story more "fair" to Person B. Weirder still, if you call her on it, she'll admit that's what she's doing.

She's conservative, in case you're curious, and a big supporter of the underdog. Not sure if it's what you were talking about politically, but it was probably the weirdest moment in my life for "wow, you are being super offensive and awful right now and you completely don't see it".

Assistant Village Idiot said...

Fascinating, and clearly related, as one section of an essay on all this that I had not posted wast titled "Peace, Not Justice." Yes, very much like this.

I also find that now that I have mentioned Jo0nathan Haidt, I run to his conclusions rapidly when I am along one path of this, so I don't think I'm going to come up with anything original there, unless it is some variation of that.

Part of my stepping back and trying to see new connections stems from the fact that there were three separate recent incidents by people who have one glaring similarity I will not mention. When such things happen, a lot of other incidents get dropped in that basket, giving the impression that there is a trend. I was trying to guard against that confirmation bias.

Donna B. said...

I think there needs to be noted here a difference between liberals and progressives. It's been my experience that it's the liberals who are genuinely nice (with exceptions, of course) and progressives who are... well, nasty and hateful.

Christopher B said...

I've been mulling your muddle and had an idea that kept popping up.

Both sides in the political debate have their hobby horses that simply don't scale well when applied to government.

The most obvious one I can think of for conservatives (mostly) is the 'government should live within its means like you do' relative to deficit spending. Nice sentiment but it ignores the fact that most of us engage in 'deficit spending' to purchase houses, cars and other durable items. There can also be a reasonable debate over the generational equity of financing durable projects out of current spending. If a bridge is going to last 50 years, it's not unreasonable to assess some of that cost to future generations that will benefit by creating future obligations. The kernel of truth in the sentiment is that financing current consumption with debt is a bad idea for both but the argument is always going to be where that line is drawn.

On the liberal side I see niceness or generosity as being a value that is often assumed to apply to government but simply doesn't scale well. What gets ignored here, I think, is resource limits affect governments too (see above :)). Certainly even those 'nice people' don't help everyone who presents themselves as needy - there is only so much time in the day, and dollars in the pocket. The sentiment I see is often one that either government action is some sort of magic multiplier, or the feeling that if we could just get everyone to help (via taxes) then the problem could be solved.