There’s a lot to talk about. Really talk about. Like why people are being killed because of the color of their skin, why people don’t get heard because of their age or gender, why governments espouse fundamental human rights then only apply them to a few of their own citizens.IMG_1437-001

Instead, I am seeing so many rants by people who just want to complain about other people’s ignorance and how they are talking about these things. They say: {Fill in the blank with gender, race, political persuasion, or nationality} is stupid and they are offending me.

So, with extreme irony, I am republishing this piece, which basically says why they are doing it wrong too.

The Cult of Nice

My favorite cartoon is by John Callahan: “The Difference Between New York and LA.” In the first panel, Los Angeles, a guy is walking down the street. As he passes someone he says: “Have a Nice Day!” and the thought balloon is: “F**k You.” In the second panel, New York, the guy says: “F**k You,” and the thought balloon is: “Have a Nice Day!”

Today, between political correctness and buzzword, double-speak, it’s almost impossible to understand what anyone really means. They may not know themselves.

But people sure are good at telling others: I’m Offended. You’re Doing It Wrong!

The Cult of Nice demands that everyone conform to one set of rules that is politically correct, conflict-free, and most of all, their way. It’s an insidious form of codependency where Nice is the highest good. The focus is entirely on the behavior of others and how it makes the cult member feel. It makes substantive discussion impossible.

You know you are in a workplace full of cult members when there are very polite printed signs everywhere with little flowers or smiley faces instructing you to put your dishes in the dishwasher, flush the toilet, and label your food in the office refrigerator. Cult members are also the first to send you a gentle reminder (turn you in) when you forget to conform to their rules. After all, no one can dispute that flushing the toilet is a good thing, and everyone should do it.

Cult members also really enjoy pointing out the Rules of Nice imposed by higher authorities, including Congress, God, or their Mothers. Currently, political correctness for conservatives is conforming to Christian values. For liberals, it’s getting your recycling in the right containers at Whole Foods and driving a Prius. Each side is equally smug, sanctimonious, and self-satisfied that they are doing the right thing. The world would be a better place if only the rest of us would straighten up and fly right.

Sexual harassment laws and the political correctness movement have done more to undermine communication than they have to prevent discrimination. It started out as legitimate rules against sleeping with the boss as a criteria for promotion, and against commenting about someone’s chest size at work. Now, it’s a rule against telling someone you like her shirt.

The “rule of shirt” is that a woman can comment on another woman’s appearance. A man, if he actually notices, can comment on another man’s appearance. If she knows the man pretty well, a woman can comment on a man’s appearance. But a man cannot comment on a woman’s appearance, unless they don’t work together and he’s planning on buying her dinner.

Please. Just because I say I like your shirt, it does not mean I have any interest in having sex with you. It’s not a comment about your breasts, your chest, or your fashion sense. I just like your shirt and think it looks nice on you. I’m trying to be genuinely nice and can’t, because it might offend you.

What started as preventing harm to people who had suffered generations of discrimination has become an inalienable right to never be offended. It’s no longer about protecting others, it’s all about protecting our own feelings.

The plan has completely defeated the purpose.

Manners used to be an unenforced or subtly expressed set of rules about conduct to make social encounters run smoothly and help people feel at ease. Now, manners are a strict code of conduct that is entirely dependent upon the judgment of the person enforcing it.

The effect of the Cult of Nice is that it’s now worse to be rude than it is to lie. It’s a bigger sin to be unkind than it is to steal. The reason why sociopaths get away with ruining other people’s lives is because they are so charming and nice while doing it.

One of the primary tactics of the Cult of Nice is to shift the topic from what you are talking about, to how you are talking about it. “I’m offended!” “Why are you being so hostile?” “It’s wrong to call other people names!” “It’s inappropriate!”

The result is that clarity, honesty, and plainspokenness are out of bounds and offensive if the listener doesn’t like what is being said. The conversation either gets side-tracked or shut down completely.

It’s nearly impossible to continue with a substantive point when someone else wants to talk about whether you are being impolite. The tactic of “you’re doing it wrong” never takes a conversation to deeper or more interesting places. It always results in a debate about the proper conduct during a debate. This is neither interesting nor Nice.

When you point out that the cult member is being as rude as you were, he tells you about his right to free speech.

There is no right to never be offended. To the contrary, free speech is exactly about the right to offend others.

Truth and open debate are more important than feelings. It’s essential to human communication and problem solving to be able to have an honest disagreement with others and to say they are wrong.

In all 50 states and Canada, it is perfectly legal to be an asshole. Nonetheless, under the Rule of Nice, the minute you utter “You ignorant jerk,” everything you have to say is disqualified from the discussion.

Often the truth is neither pretty nor comfortable. As a lawyer, I argue with people for a living. I regularly hear that I’m wrong, that my position is “specious” or “disingenuous,” as well as the other 198 ways a clever attorney can say “f**k you” without ever using the word “f**k” or “you.” I don’t like hearing that I’m wrong or that someone thinks my position is stupid. My initial reaction is usually to determine that the other side is both incorrect and idiotic. I try not to say anything or take any action until I’m over it. But I understand conflict is a necessary part of resolving disputes. The ability to work through disagreements is essential to healthy relationships of every kind.

We don’t change our perspective or our behavior because we’re happy and everyone is being Nice. We change when we get our asses handed to us.

I like to be right. I’m really good at it. But I’ve also learned the hard way that my level of righteous indignation is directly proportional to my level of self delusion. I’m a hard-headed, strong-willed, over-educated, smarty-pants who was born with a silver foot in my mouth. I make mistakes and I get called on the carpet for them. I dish it out. But I take it too. It’s too important not to.

But when the discussion turns to how we are arguing and whether I’m wrong for not communicating Nicely, when my offense is that I’ve offended someone–I’m out of there. At that point, it just becomes a black hole of competitive victimization.

The holier-than-thou attitude of the PC police makes me want to offend them out of sheer spite. But then, I become guilty of the very intolerance they demonstrate with their righteousness.

I’m not advocating being offensive for sport or to deliberately hurt other people’s feelings. I’m saying honest discussion, including heated disagreement with others, is essential to meaningful communication and problem solving. Seeing a problem clearly is necessary to solving it. The Rule of Nice obscures the clarity required to even identify the problem.

The test is not whether a statement is offensive. The test is whether it moves the discussion forward—does it add substance or insight, even if there is conflict? It’s okay to say: I disagree with your position. The Cult of Nice is when the only meaning is a version of “you’re doing it wrong” or “you’re not being Nice.”

I don’t always get it right. I try to let it go when others don’t get it right either. I try to find my sense of humor, and not to act out of fear or anger.

Most importantly, I remember that other people are not responsible for how I feel.

I would much rather hear the truth, no matter how offensive, than live in a world where you can’t speak the truth because it’s offensive.

And despite my general intolerance for discussions about how we are discussing things, sometimes I think it’s worth talking about the value of offending people.

Have a nice day.

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