When Nice Just Isn’t Enough

My husband and I were out to dinner one night when I told him my idea for this blog. He got very excited about the concept and we spent the rest of our dinner compiling my List of Uncomfortable Things to Force Myself to Try. One of his first suggestions was for me to attend a protest rally. That definitely did not sound like my kind of thing, so I put it on the list and it has stayed there for three years, waiting for such a time as this. I was so hesitant to do it that I actually thought I’d reach a point where I’d say, “Looks like the only thing left on this list is to protest something. Guess I’d better find something that will count so I’ll have something to write about,” but those were simpler times and it’s been a really rough week.

I didn’t attend any of the women’s marches last week, but I followed the posts of my friends who did. Later, I wondered why I hadn’t gone. I think it was a lot like the time my family went bungee jumping. I told them I would watch and not jump, but after seeing my sister do it, I decided it wouldn’t be as scary as I thought. My sisters who marched gave me the desire and the courage to attend a rally at the Salt Lake Airport to protest Trump’s travel ban for refugees.

I realize there are strong feelings in my community regarding those who exercise their first amendment rights of freedom of speech and freedom of assembly. I’ve heard a lot of criticism in the last week and have thought a lot about the reasons some are uncomfortable and angry about recent protests. (Although I haven’t noticed anyone complaining about Saturday’s March for Life, so maybe it’s not the act of protesting itself that’s so distasteful, but the reason for gathering.)

I also thought about the reasons that kept me from protesting before. What was stopping me? I’m not going to presume to know why others don’t think it’s appropriate, but I do want to explore why I personally was uncomfortable with the idea. I also want to, without rehashing all the arguments that have been flying around, explain why I felt that it was not only okay for me to speak up, but that it was the right thing for me to do.

As I thought about it last week, I realized that my own reservations about joining a rally boiled down to, “It’s not nice. I don’t want to make other people feel uncomfortable.” I struggle to be the soft-spoken, sweet spirit that I sometimes feel I’m supposed to be. I often wish it were easier for me to be nice. I really try, but then out pop my real thoughts, I see the surprise on people’s faces and I realize that, for me at least, being nice is sometimes just another way of pretending to be someone I’m not.

I thought about the line from Into the Woods that says, “nice is different than good,” and for my own purposes have changed it to, “nice is different than caring.” I’ve decided that, although I’m not cut out to be nice all the time, I do care earnestly about things. I know it sounds strange to make that distinction, but I think there is one. Sometimes the two go hand in hand, but not always.

According to my mom, I was a sweet child, quiet and shy. I remember it as backward and socially clueless, but sure, we can call it sweetness. (I also remember plenty of instances of me being quite mean to siblings and neighbors, so I’m not claiming to be an angel.) Often, my shyness meant I didn’t speak up when I should have.

When I was thirteen, an older boy I hardly knew came up behind me in class without warning and reached his hand up my skirt to grope me. I was horrified but I didn’t do anything about it. I was frozen and had no idea how to react, so I did nothing. A few years later, someone at my job helped himself in a similar way and I reacted in a similar way.

A few weeks later, I mentioned the incident casually to my mom. My grandpa, who was not quiet or shy, overheard me and was enraged. He shouted, “He did WHAT? You should have slapped him or gotten him fired!” I remember two distinct thoughts when he said that: I was embarrassed that it hadn’t occurred to me to do anything of the sort, but at the same time, I also remember a feeling of relief because for the first time, I knew what to do in that situation, and because I felt like I had been given permission to speak out – that I was giving myself permission to speak out. I realized didn’t have to be nice and sweet all the time.

That permission freed me to notice other situations where I should speak out, and boy, did I. But as I got more confident and found my voice and expressed my opinions more freely, I started to become more sarcastic, critical, and argumentative. I was still me, but with a bit more salt. It was a gradual change, so I didn’t even recognize it when a guy I was dating brought me a cactus as a gift because he said it reminded him of me, “Kind of prickly, but really nice.” I started to assume that I was just bitey by nature, and that my parents must have been mistaken when they remembered me as sweet.

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I can remember the exact moment it dawned on me that I didn’t have to be prickly. I could speak up and still be kind and I could soften up some of my hard edges a bit. It was when I heard Margaret Nadauld say in the Fall 2000 LDS General Conference: “The world has enough women who are tough; we need women who are tender. There are enough women who are coarse; we need women who are kind.”

Much like the time my Grandpa gave me advice, I felt both embarrassed by the persona I had adopted, and relieved to realize that deep down I really was a tender and kind, and that I should work harder to bring those qualities back to the surface. I’m still working on it (sarcasm is such a handy crutch to use), and I am aware that I have a long way to go in that department, but I am trying.

When I heard those words the first time, they were elevating and empowering to me, and I felt that all the confidence and strength I had cultivated the past ten years were something I needed, but that I could do so much more good in the world if I could learn to express myself with more love and kindness. It was very meaningful for me at the time, and I consider that moment to be pivotal in my life. That’s why this week as I’ve seen many women post that quote on social media as a criticism towards women who marched, I haven’t just been annoyed, but genuinely hurt. That moment was precious to me and each time I saw it being used as a weapon, I felt that my experience with those words was somehow tainted by association.

I have also felt pain reading that quote posted again and again because I feel like it’s being tossed at a whole group of individuals who are being lumped together and labeled “The World.” I understand that if you can distance yourself from a group of people and other-ize them, it’s easier to hate them. I’m guilty of that too. Maybe those posting it didn’t know anyone marching, or maybe they didn’t particularly like the women they knew who marched, but I did know many who marched, and each one is a person I admire for his or her kindness and integrity and compassion and faith. They didn’t march in spite of these qualities. They marched because of these qualities. They weren’t a big steaming pile of The World. They were individuals gathering together for a cause they felt was important, and they did so peacefully and with love and respect.

I realize that many were offended by the term they appropriated for their hats, but that word didn’t come out of thin air. It came from the grown man who bragged about doing to women what those teenage boys did to me. It’s not a word I choose to use, but, quite frankly, it’s not an act I choose to have inflicted on me or anyone else, so I can see why they used it to make a point. I understand those who recoil when they hear the word because I do too, but I think getting hung up on the language misses the point. In our real lives as grown ups, we don’t always get VidAngel to edit out the parts we don’t want to see.

On Saturday, I was appalled by news of refugees and green card holders being detained at airports throughout the country. I won’t rehash things I’ve already written, but I was shocked and sickened to learn that the things I had worried about in November were actually happening at lightning speed right before our eyes. I felt completely helpless, and I wasn’t even personally affected by the ban. I couldn’t imagine the fear and pain of those who are. I was heartened by the protests in New York and wanted to do something to show my support as well but didn’t know how. It was frustrating and it felt so wrong. It still does.

That evening, just as I was walking out the door to take my younger kids to a play, I noticed an announcement for a protest rally at our airport and I knew that this was my chance to stand up and be heard. I turned to my husband who had been looking forward to a quiet evening home alone, and asked if he’d go to the play instead so I could take our oldest son to the airport. He told us to go for it, so we grabbed some poster board and Sharpies and hit the road. I drove and he assembled the posters. (I used stickers on mine because I love stickers so much.)

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The rally didn’t feel like I thought it would. Somehow I imagined that shouting and waving signs would just fuel the anger and anxiety I had felt all day, but the gathering didn’t feel antagonistic at all. Sure, we were protesting the ban, but it felt less like a show of dissent than a show of love and support to those affected. When one woman grabbed the megaphone and tried to get the crowd more angry, suggesting more aggressive tactics, the whole group responded with some form of, “Um, nah, we’re good,” and she backed off. When one of the speakers praised us for coming, one person politely called out, “It’s not about us!” Everyone was civil and kind to each other. At one point, I looked down and noticed a credit card on the ground and asked the girl next to me if it was hers. As she picked it up and expressed her relief, I said, “Oh, wait, I forgot we’re supposed to be looting,” and then we laughed together as if I had actually said something funny. It was a very mild-mannered event.

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We were there because we wanted Muslims in our community to know they are not alone. We didn’t block anyone traveling or cause a disruption. We just gathered together to give greater strength to each of our individual voices. I’m not much for chanting with a crowd, but it felt good after a day of feeling no one is listening to have my voice join with all the others.

Aside from the feeling of unity I got from the rally, I appreciated the chance to share the experience with my son. We are very similar in our tendency to feel strongly about issues and to express ourselves. Often the subjects we feel passionate about are very different, and our desire to express (sometimes loudly and fiercely) those feelings leads to arguments between us. My poor husband has had to referee many heated discussions late into the night. Things have become less contentious since he went away to college, but I still sometimes find myself thinking, “Why can’t he just be nice?” (And I’m pretty sure he thinks the same about me.)

On Saturday, we were able to bring our similar personalities together for a cause we both feel very strongly about. We were able to raise our voices to their full volume without my husband having to remind us to settle down (in fact, he was cheering us on from the play). And as I went to bed that night, I realized that, as much as I feel my son’s life would be easier for him if he just played nice, nice is different than good. I wondered, if I had to choose, would I rather have him be a nice, obedient son who can’t be bothered by the plight of others? I realized that my answer, without a doubt, was that I would absolutely, no question about it, rather have a son who cares. We taught him to stand up for what he believes and he is doing that, even when nobody wants to hear what he has to say, even when we don’t agree with him. And we’re proud of him for it.

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While we were at the rally, my son posted something about it on Facebook, encouraging his friends to come out and show support. Among several antagonistic responses, someone he doesn’t know sent him this horrible message:

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Yeah, when I stop to think about the alternatives, I find I’m very happy with the son I have. The world has enough people who are harsh; we need people who are friendly. The world has enough people who are apathetic; we need people who care. The world has enough fear; we need love.

Saturday afternoon, as I was reading stories of refugees and crying, out of nowhere I wondered how my grandpa would react to this news. Just that thought felt like a punch in the gut. I have to open my mouth because I can’t imagine seeing my grandpa again someday and hearing him say, “Why didn’t you speak up? You should have said something!” I have to speak up now because I can’t teach my children to stand up for what’s right as long as it doesn’t hurt someone’s feelings.

This is why I protested. I wasn’t throwing a tantrum or whining. I was expressing my opinion as a citizen of my country and I was proud to share that moment with my son. I’m not saying anyone who doesn’t choose to protest is wrong. I’m not saying I’ll feel as strongly about other issues as I do about this one. I am saying that this last minute scramble to get to the airport Saturday night was absolutely the right decision for us, if only to be reminded that, “It’s not about us!”

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5 thoughts on “When Nice Just Isn’t Enough

  1. I really admire you Kristen! You are a great example to me of how we should stand for what we believe in. Too often I find myself hiding behind what I really believe because I don’t want to offend but your words have given me courage to stand up for what I believe in instead of just feeling angry for keeping quiet!

  2. Beautifully written and expressed. ❤ Thank you for being an example of compassion and love for those who don’t have a voice for themselves right now.

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