I was warned. When I was thirteen, a friend of my older brother's said, 'Maggy, don't be nice. Be amazing, be mean, be honest, be a monster but, whatever you do, don't be nice.'
I didn't believe him. I'd been raised to be the good girl. So many women -- and quite a lot of men -- of my generation were. It wasn't an option to stick your head above the parapet and if you actually complained about something you were 'a bad person.'
I used to comment ruefully that when I was a child I was expected to shut up and listen to adults until I grew up and then I was expected to shut up and listen to children.
It's a common enough scenario. If you aren't raised to learn self-esteem or you had parents who were narcissists or sick -- or both -- then you often end up believing that if you are nice, then people will like you, they will meet your needs without your having to ask (God forbid you should actually dare to ask!) and life will run smoothly.
It doesn't work, does it? Nice people get ignored, despised, trodden on -- and generally try desperately to be even nicer in order to try and turn the tide. Which often leads to passive aggression--practically an epidemic on Social Media nowadays.
It is possible that some of you reading this, who know me, will be going, 'Nice? She's not nice. She's dynamic and powerful' and I have to admit that the former head of BBC Religion and Ethics, Alan Bookbinder, did once describe me as 'terrifying.' But that is on my subject of expertise -- the metaphysical interpretation of the Bible. There, I'm confident and, yes, even powerful. I will stand up for my knowledge.
But if I'm personally attacked -- by someone who wants to demonstrate that I am an ignorant, lowly worm -- then my programming is to try and 'nice' my way out of it. I have never been able to defend myself in public.
Consequently, I have been accused of many things (some rightly and some utterly wrongly) by people who knew I was a soft target. Every time, I've always (nicely) seen the Lucific truth and found it impossible to defend myself. A Lucific truth is one where there is just a grain of truth in what is a basically untrue statement. For example, you could accurately call me a thief because I once took a piece of cheesecake from the wrong conference room at Birmingham St. Mary's Hospice. The conference I was attending didn't have any pudding and the one next door had left half a cheesecake unfinished. So I brought a piece of cheesecake to our room and told everyone else that it was available. I can't stand waste and I do love pudding.
Was it theft? Technically, yes ... and no. It wasn't intended to deprive anyone as that cheesecake was going in the bin if it wasn't eaten. I didn't feel it was theft - but I got a thundering memo because it was food 'from a different budget' ... and I was far too nice to defend myself.
But you know something? I'm now 60 years old and I am out of nice. I've done nice; I've failed at nice; I've got nowhere with nice. I get trodden on with nice. I am worth more than nice.
What finally turned the worm? A magazine called XCity, the flagship magazine by the MA journalists at City University of London. They wanted to interview me (and others) about journalists who become comedians. Nicely, I said yes. And they misquoted me. They attributed someone else's quotation to me. As a vicar, I am misquoted as saying, 'A lot of comedians email me and say: "How do I write?" Part of me wants to slap them and say 'I spent thousands on an MA. You can't just write.'
So that's 60 years of being nice out of the window, isn't it? Because the world has just been told that I am anything other than nice; that I want to slap people who come to me for help.
I did try and be nice about it. I quite understood that they made a mistake. But this quotation is in an annual magazine that goes to the journalists of the future (and to Robert Peston and Andrew Marr who were featured in it) so no retraction can take place for a full year. They said they were very sorry and that it was unforgivable and then they spent three months pointing out that it wasn't actually a libel and arguing with me about how little compensation they were willing to offer for a quotation which could reverberate through the rest of my life.
And I took it. I bloody well took it. Part of me thought, 'they're right; I'm not that important. It's not all about me.' Until my dear friend, Roger, exploded with anger on my behalf and insisted that I remember me that I have worth. That this was an insult. That they are utterly and culpably wrong. And they should not be allowed to get away with it. That I should stop being 'nice' about it which would only lead me to be passively aggressively bitchy about XCity for the rest of my life.
There is now a stonkingly angry email in the in-box of Professer Sir Paul Curran, the Vice-Chancellor of City University and I feel a lot better. And it will not end there until my reputation has been redeemed. I don't give a stuff whether that's nice or not.
I've done nice; I've failed at nice; I've got nowhere with nice. I get trodden on with nice. I am worth more than nice. And so are you.
Right now, in the wake of the Brexit vote, the UK seems to be going to hell in a handcart. Why? Because so much repressed anger in formerly 'nice' people is coming out--and not that healthily either. And why is that? Because 'nice' people are hurt, angry, frightened and that makes them passively-aggressively vicious. All the 'elitist' stuff is passive aggression. All the conspiracy theories are passive aggression. Racism is generally exploded passive aggression. Yes, it gets worse--poison in fact. Religious hatred is people killing in order to be seen by some horrific God as 'good'!
It is about time we risked being authentic, not nice. We'll actually be better and more powerful people in the long run if we do. In fact, I would love it if, when you read this article, you would emulate the wonderful 1975 movie Network and shout out, 'I'm a human being, Goddamit. My life has value!'
In the movie, Peter Finch yells that - and then tells everyone to stick their head out of the window and shout. 'I'm mad as hell and I'm not going to take this any more!'
Except, this time, let's yell, 'I'm out of nice and I'm not going to take this anymore!'
You'll feel a lot better. Any inherent passive aggression will fly away and you might actually be able to stand up for yourself in a powerful and dignified way.
That'll be nice, won't it?