Days before the midterm elections, the worst kind of pictures popped up in my Facebook feed: this lady I knew relatively well, posing with her grown children, all of them sporting gray shirts imprinted with the face of that Davaoeño ex-cop with dramatic proclivities. By now, said ex-cop is set to join the Senate, if we go by the Commission on Elections’ count, and that Facebook friend is off gallivanting in some European capital.
It was very tempting to comment on that post; I was thinking something short and sweet, like “why” — lowercase and unpunctuated for a touch of genteel curiosity. But after verbalizing the idea, I was told, as I’d been told many times before, to “be nice.” Was it really worth the trouble — this vaguely aggressive comment and the arguments it would conceivably entail, the feathers it would ruffle?
As that trending Twitter photo proclaimed, “It’s just politics. Don’t let our political preferences destroy friendships and relationships.”
Sure thing. Social media, after all, is just one huge echo chamber, full of paid trolls, manicured profiles and like-minded people following and preaching to each other. Beyond our screens, we have real lives to lead and real people to interact with. And being nice — which, in our patriarchy- and hierarchy-obsessed society, often translates to smiling pretty, staying silent and bottling up one’s political feelings in favor of preserving the peace — has always come in handy.
They didn’t give out medals for the “most polite” kids back in kindergarten for nothing. It’s simply the way we’re conditioned: grandparents doting on grandchildren who are “obedient”; parents handing out easy rewards for “doing what we say without question.” And for the grownups, being nice sweetens the parties we throw, expands our businesses through newfound acquaintances, and flavors random incidents with a more palatable taste for the purposes of memory. Why bother rocking the boat of shallow, civil conversation?
I’m neither parent nor aspiring New-Age life coach, but it’s a mistake to confuse nice with nonconfrontational. Only a fool would think collective, courteous silence has ever helped anyone.
Nice gets you children who grow up to become adults bereft of the ability to engage in intelligent, insightful discussion on politics, religion or any other “sensitive” subject—or worse, adults who think discussing such matters in places other than the classroom is at the very least inappropriate, the doings of a party pooper.
Nice means making excuses for those friends or family members who openly and vocally support the government’s “war on drugs” (after three years, it’s amazing how some people still buy this story), thinking, well, there’s more to these persons than just their morals and stand on socioeconomic issues; that anyway, they have raised loving families and have known yours for the longest time—plus bonus points for being devout churchgoers—so they must certainly be better people
than their poorly crafted Facebook posts make them out to be.
Nice means just keeping quiet and walking away after an elderly relative tells you he’s not voting for Samira Gutoc because—and I kid you not—“she’s a loud woman,” and that Neri Colmenares is a “threat to businessmen,” which makes sense only in the context of said relative, who happens to be richer than probably half the people in your hometown combined.
The ending, of course, is that nice helps get elected to the Senate people like that Davaoeño ex-cop, or that photobombing former aide to the President, who, it should go without saying, is all sorts of unqualified.
In some way, this must feel kind of a reach — to say that our individual upbringing is the reason we now have plundering actors, fanatical boxers and theatrical policemen to write the laws of the land. But grand, disastrous endings can somehow all be traced back to the subliminal cracks at the beginning, to minds tenderly kept shut and mouths demurely kept closed.
So while majority of Filipinos, the ones who don’t have the luxury to care about “Avengers: Endgame” or “Game of Thrones,” eke out a living on a day-to-day basis, the privileged few—the ones with access and the linguistic faculty to read this piece—continue to be nice to each other. There’s always church for our weekly dose of thanksgiving and social media for the occasional, intellectual rant.
Maybe what we need is some plain, blunt thinking to reflect on what the American master composer Stephen Sondheim wrote: Nice is different than good.
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Vincen Gregory Yu is a medical doctor, fictionist, poet and theater reviewer for Inquirer Lifestyle-Theater.
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