A menu for goodness can provide adequate sustenance only if the words feed the soul of the person who consumes it
What’s wrong with just being nice? Nothing, right? It’s the least anyone can do. And, sometimes, more than some can manage! That’s what I’m thinking about as I stand hemmed in on a packed commuter train, crushed-tin-o-sardine style, mashing the keys on my phone (as usual glued to my hand like an extra limb from a Philip K Dick novel) considering profound metaphysical questions like these – what sort of a world do I wish I lived in? What kind of world would I like my son to grow up in? What if everyone was just a bit nicer? What is my own philosophy? Do I even have one? As I chew over these thoughts, I’m doing my utmost not to invade the physical realms of my fellow commuters with an armpit or stray elbow. And by doing my utmost, I mean gripping as tightly as I can to an ice-cold metal pole in an uncomfortably awkward stance – it’s really no fun. But why all the effort? Well, I’m just trying to be nice, really. I know I wouldn’t like if it someone bludgeoned me in the temple with a swinging forearm because they couldn’t be bothered to hold onto something as the train jolted all over the place. Without too much introspection, I would suggest it’s some kind of biblical residue from childhood telling me to treat others how I wish to be treated myself – or possibly my Freudian superego regulating my actions, as if my mother was watching me at that very moment (gazing down from the metaphorical tower of my internal Bentham/Focault panopticon) and ensuring that I do the right thing. Whatever it was, I have no doubt in my conviction that being nice to others is the least I can do – certainly the majority of the time.
The ambivalence of existence
The world can be a pretty messed up place – you only need to analyse a microcosm of the history of humanity (say, the last 100 years), to reveal a litany or heinous barbaric acts and events: mass genocide, gas chambers, female genital mutilation, extreme violence, sex crimes, racial prejudice, inequality, miscarriages of justice. The list goes on – and on and on. But, at the same time, some of the most amazing acts of love, compassion, heroism, defiance, fraternity, comradeship, protection, kindness and ‘Niceness’ have taken place – sometimes as a response to those cruel, wicked and misguided occurrences.
But is it possible to be nice in every situation? Is it even a good idea to always try to be nice? Probably not. But it’s always a good place to start. Even as I write this, I can’t help feeling a bit ridiculous – when studying the likes of Immanuel Kant, Friedrich Nietzsche, Sigmund Freud and many of the other powerhouses of contemporary Western philosophy, I didn’t expect that one day I’d be penning my own personal ‘mantra for the masses’ (I appreciate that really is as ridiculous as it sounds). My intention with this project was simply to jot down a few personal thoughts for my son to read one day; to put something down on paper that could help Sammy understand a bit more about the type of person I am. And I certainly didn’t expect that the basic premise of what I was writing would be this – what if we were all just a bit nicer to each other? But that’s exactly what I’m doing. And if you think that’s a bit silly, fair enough. Because I do, too. But I also think it’s important – essential in fact. If this world can possibly move forward towards any semblance of global harmony and peace (which is surely what the majority of us with goodness in our hearts and virtue in our convictions want?), then we HAVE to start being nicer to each other.
It’s time to commit
It’s easy enough to propose such ideas, but far from easy to implement them due to myriad factors; human beings are flawed – we can be greedy, selfish, ruthless and just not very Nice. The notion of building a Nicer future is far from perfect – but so is everything in life. And as long as you’re prepared to try, you’re already committing to an act of Complex Niceness (something I’ll explain later). So, well done, you!
At this juncture, I’d like to make it clear that I do not consider myself an expert in these matters. I’m a flawed human being who does stupid things and makes mistakes. But I also believe I have a good heart and a strong will – a will to power; the power of Niceness. I believe the world can be a better place, but I appreciate it requires a lot of time, hard work and effort. However, the greatest achievements in our existent started with the smallest steps – and if everyone just started by showing a little more compassion, we could really make some positive changes.
So think of this as a philosophical inquiry (my own pop philosophy – a Niceness manual for the modern world); one in which I will do my best to explain why a positivist approach, based on the pursuit and application of Niceness, is the best way forward for our often wonderful, more often troubled, species. Think of this as my attempt to improve the well-being of my readers, spread positive vibes and share kind sentiments, using grand philosophical ideas as a framework for such extensive moral and ethical ambitions. At times, I’ll aim for lofty proposals – like a philosophy for the post-postmodern world, somewhere between an acceptance and celebration of Freudian determinism, adopting the good faith of early Sartrean positivist existentialism and fusing it with the harmonious Way of the Tao, in the hope of building a fair and equal Marxist/Socialist utopia. And at other times I’ll just chat about stuff that interests me – and how Niceness can help us all feel a bit happier. Because we need to be Nicer to each other – now more than ever.
If all this head-in-the-clouds idealism hasn’t forced you to stop reading yet, let me just add that I fully accept the fact that Niceness can leave us open to exploitation, deception and heartache. And even a slight bending of one’s will can lead them towards banality (of evil) and be the precursor to neglect, cowardice and a lack of responsibility. However, being Nice is also the only true path to happiness – whatever that is – in our lifetime on earth. To be nice, to give love and to reciprocate Niceness and love, is the essence of contentment – at least as far as (and to what extent) we can ever be contented. So let’s now be virtuous, let’s now be altruistic – let’s now be Nice. And let’s now consider Genuinity…