Too Kind?

You are the kindest country in the world. You are like a really nice apartment over a meth lab.” Robin Williams on Canada

Canadians have a reputation for being kind and polite. When I tell people I was born in Canada, they sometimes say, “No wonder you are so nice.”

Whether this reputation is deserved I don’t know. I remember my mother pointing out a boisterous group in Eaton’s Department Store in downtown Montreal when I was a kid and saying, “Americans,” meaning rude Americans. Meaning we would never act like that.

Like all generalities, how far does this stretch? Maybe there are rude farmers in Saskatchewan or uncaring city dwellers in Toronto. In certain parts of the United States, such as the Midwest, the people I’ve met are genuine and friendly. On our summer vacations on Cape Cod, I thought New Englanders were polite even if they spoke with a funny accent. And when I visit family in North Carolina, I am charmed by their southern soft speech and manners.

What is meant by “nice?” Good manners, politeness, can mask a lack of caring and even an underlying hostility. A veneer of niceness can be just that, not real, not soul deep. A group that is considered loud in one country may not be perceived as such in another, although it could be argued that part of being nice, or having respect for others, is taking the time to understand how others see the world.Man man

Recently I read an op-ed piece that Canada may lose its polite reputation now that hip and handsome Justin Trudeau is prime minister. He will lead the country to jostle for more space and recognition on the international stage, to speak up more and not always kowtow to the craziness or arrogance south of the border or anywhere in the world. If so, I hope he does not lose his manners and confuse trumpeting bellicosity with leadership as certain aspiring American politicians do.

Unfortunately, kindness is often mistaken for weakness. Those of us who are good at listening and who hesitate to interrupt or steamroll are not perceived as having strength or ideas of our own, if we are even seen or heard at all. Of course, it is our responsibility to speak up when necessary, but it is difficult and not always well-received by those who are used to taking up all the air space.

Recently, a friend accused me of letting others take advantage of me. It’s true, I sometimes listen more than I care to and I don’t always say what I really think for fear of being unkind. But I draw the line at being walked on, by anyone. So I responded to my friend’s accusation that she doesn’t know me very well if she really thinks that. She answered that I wouldn’t be hearing from her again! Defriended me on Facebook, of course.

These rude door-slammings are not what any of us need, personally or in the world. Even if we feel angry, we still need to talk respectfully if we are to have any hope of workable relationships – if we are to diffuse the ticking time bombs, keep the meth labs from blowing up, the weapons safely stored, the drones happily delivering Amazon goodies. The world needs diplomacy and compassion more than ever as we face difficult truths and differing realities.