Niceness is an under-rated quality – it tends to be associated with tepid talent and muted colour. The definition of nice (see the Oxford Dictionary) is positive, “Pleasant, satisfying or attractive.” But modern usage also hints at blandness – a nice meal is OK but will not leave you raving.
I want to revive the classic dictionary meaning and praise ‘nice’ – a nice person is good-natured, kind and careful. In politics, media and business we are overdue to appreciate nice men and women.
So I was pleased to see Roger Federer praised for his niceness recently. As a winner, he is gracious and generous to his opponents and has self-deprecating humour. As a loser, he is magnanimous and always polite. No histrionics, no bad behaviour.
But strength too, to overcome the injuries and the years of losing to return with more determination and more niceness. No wonder he is adored and often described as simply ‘nice’.
And it was also wonderfully refreshing to see the manager of the English football team, Gareth Southgate, praised for being a nice guy. #SouthgateforPM became a semi-serious meme – if he could revive the team spirit and skill of a bunch of young footballers and (briefly) fill English hearts with hope, surely he could negotiate Brexit! Southgate, it was noted, always had time for young fans, he praised his mentors, he encouraged disciplined team spirit and he knew how to handle defeat (he could even turn his missed penalty in 1996 into a positive learning experience).
Niceness is not weakness. There is a steel core to Federer and Southgate. Jesus was nice – meek, kind to outsiders; he made time for children. But he was also quite able to deal with time-wasters and was not manipulated by the powerful.
Jesus was good, not just pleasant. And I do not want to miss that distinction. He suffered little children, not hypocrites. Niceness needs to be aligned to goodness and determination to be the best we can be without succumbing to vanity or selfish ambition.
Beth Moore is a Christian leader from Texas (blonde!) with 859k Twitter followers. She writes with Southern charm about scripture, family, America and the Church. She sometimes gets online abuse full of meanness and hatred. Determined to remain strong and nice, she has called for “a backlash of civility”.
After one recent vicious thread, she tweeted: “Somehow I don’t think we are going to get to the other side of this life and go, man, I wish I’d been mad at people longer. We won’t be glad we stayed mad. We’ll just be sad.”
Too often we underestimate the power of nice actions from good people. The praise for Federer and Southgate hints at an invaluable combination of politeness and integrity, kindness and insight, gentleness and strength.
I’d vote for that in politics, I’d cheer for that on the sports field. I pray for that in all public life.