When I was very young, I just wanted people to like me. I wanted them to think I was nice. And so I was. I was very, very nice. I was nice at the expense of a lot of things.
I was nice when I should have been bold. I was nice when I should have been angry. I was nice when I should have been brave or sad or offended.
I was nice when I should have defended myself, and more importantly, when I should have defended others.
The truth is hard: I was nice because I was afraid of what doing the bold thing would cost me. I was nice because I was a coward. And because I was a coward, other people suffered.
I am still too nice sometimes, still too worried I might offend the people who disagree with me, especially those related to me. I still sometimes dance around what I know is the right thing to say because I am afraid of what they’ll think of me: that I’m condescending or pretentious or inconsiderate or that I don’t know my place. I’m even more worried that they’ll be right: that I do not know my place because I am still finding it. That I am never sure whether I am worried more that my voice won’t matter or that it will.
I now see the cost of my cowardice more clearly. I see that when I decide not to be brave—when I decide to be nice instead of bold—that someone loses. And it is almost always someone who already has less than I do.
I do not endorse being hateful. I do not like yelling, though I understand why humans who have been stripped of their rights cry out. It is the correct response to injustice. And yet, I have always been more prone to crying than screaming, always more likely to close up than to lash out.
This is not about violence, which is never OK, regardless of circumstance. But it is about the way we react to violence: about whether we’re bold enough to defend ourselves and each other when it matters most. About whether we are bold enough to call something wrong when it is. About what it costs us to stop violence, and whether we’re willing to pay that price.
Now, when I think now about what I want my legacy to be, I don’t care at all whether people say I am nice. I hope people found me to be kind when they needed it, and brave when they needed it, and funny when they needed it, too. But more so, I hope that when my friends’ daughters go to their first days of work, it is easier for them because my generation lived. I hope they are safer and smarter and better off because we were courageous enough to make it so.
I am done being nice not because I am done being kind, but because I am making room for more important ways to be. I am making room for courage and justice and love and growth and mistakes and a better world for all of us.