It Was a Nice Time

I haven’t written this article to bash the current era. I’m aware that nostalgia tints our memories with a sentimental hue and we remember things better than they were. Besides, in many ways, the world is a more progressive place than it used to be. Even so, all change is not for the better. With the emergence of social media platforms everyone has begun airing their grievances vociferously. These platforms have become a free- for- all on any topic and the trend has petered into our social behaviours. When I was young, we were asked uncomfortable questions by relatives, friends and strangers alike. ‘Are you married?’ ‘Do you have children?’ And the worst one of all (if you had two daughters) ‘Don’t you want a boy?’ No, I didn’t want a boy because I was happy with two beautiful girls and who on earth wanted one more child! But the point I’m making is that I smiled politely and replied, ‘I’m content.’ I didn’t give the person a piece of my mind or cut them out of my life or fume over what they said. That person had his or her worldview and I didn’t want to challenge it even if I thought it was terribly askew. Like it or not, we were brought up to be nice.

No one always feels like being nice all the time but it wasn’t hypocrisy or pretence; it was decorum. We ignored the less sensitive or less privileged person who thought they knew better. I wasn’t talking behind their backs when I repeated what they said to someone close. I had simply respected the cultural or generational boundary to not voice it to their faces. Of course, niceness was not a sign of naivete. We didn’t think the world was nice. It was, as always, essentially a mess. The Second World War and its atrocities were still being written about. Closer to home, the situation was dire and the slogan of ‘Garibi Hatao, Desh Bachao,’ rang through the air. Also, female emancipation was in its nascent stage and we desperately hoped for a better time to come. We knew that it was a world in which brothers usurped each other’s businesses and properties, people could be cruel and corruption was rampant; we didn’t wear rose tinted glasses. Yet, we were constantly lectured on the importance of good conduct.

We didn’t make disparaging jokes (like every other meme these days) about work because unemployment plagued the nation and work was sacrosanct. Similarly, we didn’t barricade ourselves in our rooms because we found social interaction overwhelming. Frankly, most of us didn’t have rooms to barricade ourselves in. We usually lived with grandparents, siblings, parents, staff members and many of us with extended family members. We had to suffer through a few minutes of awkward question and answer sessions with visitors until we made an escape. People made frequent social calls and the pop-in was considered a sign of friendship not intrusion. Moreover, we didn’t say that someone had ‘negative vibes’ if they made an uncalled-for remark. We blamed their prejudices on the general functioning of society. After all, if people’s vibrations were harmful, saints would never have sat with less realized souls and imparted their knowledge. They would have safeguarded their energy like we are told to do these days. In fact, we believed that niceness overcame all.

It was common to see portraits of Mahatma Gandhi, Rabindranath Tagore and Swami Vivekananda in people’s homes and offices alike. It was a sort of subliminal message we received that there was an ideal way of existence even though our best efforts could go awry. Simply aspiring for the ideal was enough for the common individual, even if acquiring it was out of reach. We were polite to a fault and often began a sentence with an unnecessary apology and it wasn’t psychoanalyzed. It was a literal translation of ‘darasal maaf kijiye,’ which didn’t signify low self-esteem. Besides, one had to be nice to those who were incapable of it themselves. We didn’t use words like toxic to explain people’s personalities or their relationships. In my opinion gases are toxic, people and their relationships are complicated. Relationships are difficult or even impossible, but not poisonous as the word toxic suggests. We ought to be nice, even when we don’t feel like it. It’s easy to be nice when things are going well but hard to be nice when someone is infuriating. It’s not being fake; it’s being nice despite everything, which sums up the essence of being nice. It also doesn’t mean that one should take things lying down. It just means that one should on all occasions display humility.

I don’t know the exact time when niceness was replaced by toughness as though these qualities could not co-exist. It was at a time when people began to see everything in terms of profit and loss. It was probably when words like ‘pushover,’ ‘people pleaser’ and ‘doormat,’ were used to describe people who are aggregable and accommodating. A euphuism for expressing selfishness has emerged which is called ‘prioritizing myself.’ Hence, one no longer needs to- even temporarily- sacrifice one’s peace of mind for another person. The idea that we have to put up with each other through thick and thin is fast diminishing. Virtues are compared to benefit. What did you gain by being nice? To say that I was nice because one should be nice is no longer a universal ideology. The concept that one has to be ruthless to succeed in the world has become a dictum. Niceness just slunk into the background as an impractical ideal. Like I said at the outset, there are many things right in the modern world. By and large people are trying to be more accepting about gender dysphoria, sexual orientation and lifestyle choices, but in the process of asserting ourselves as individuals, we lost a few social graces. We are easily offended, tend to overthink and constantly create issues out of trivial slights. In trying to be forthright, we are losing the desire to be nice to each other. In my opinion, niceness is not a sign of weakness. It takes great strength to always be nice.

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