The word “nice” certainly brings with it a host of positive associations: a nice day, a nice piece of cake, and a nice time at the beach. However, if asked to pick a word that presents one of the greatest hurdles when helping people to improve relationships, it is the word “nice.” What could be bad about this apparently harmless word? In addition, are there not many mitzvos that demand we treat our fellow person nicely? Doesn’t the Torah expect us to be nice?
The answer is a resounding no! The Torah prohibits us from speaking cruelly, from acting out of anger, from striking our fellowman and many other improper behaviors. It does not, however, require us to be “nice.” But to fathom that, we must accurately define “nice.” In American usage, the adverb “nice” means that you define your behavior by what will make him/her happy. Think that over a moment, and say to yourself, “I determine what I do by how someone else will react.” Does that not make you feel a bit nervous? It should. You can control how you act, but you have no control of how others will react to your behavior. Due to this, the drive to be “nice” can place you in a searing emotional contradiction. On the one hand, you want to act a certain way and you are allowed to act that way. On the other hand, if you act like that, someone important to you may disapprove. That can really make you feel bad. When applied to other’s behaviour, we never find a problem with nice. We all like to be in the company of nice people. The problem begins when a person demands from himself to be nice. Suddenly, the feelings change for the worse, ranging from a vague sensation of discomfort to outright frustration. Good clean communication with a spouse begins with a good clean understanding of what we want and what we are trying to say. Before tackling any interpersonal issues let us check our hearts and see if we are harboring any intrapersonal contradictions that will stand in our way.