Niceness is overrated

Via a commenter at Jerry’s, a salient remark by Malcolm Gladwell in The New Yorker in 2002, in a Talk of the Town piece on Niceness.

The problem, of course, is that niceness is overrated as a virtue. Many cultures are nice. The Southern antebellum aristocracy was marvellously well-mannered; its members left tasteful calling cards, entertained gracefully, and conducted their personal affairs with the utmost discretion. But they had few other virtues; in fact, it was the practice of niceness that helped to keep other values, such as fairness, at bay. Fairness sometimes requires that surfaces be disturbed, that patterns of cordiality be broken, and that people, rudely and abruptly, be removed from their place. Niceness is the enemy of fairness.

He may have derived that from Mark Twain – it’s related to what Twain called Sir Walter disease. The South was rotten with delusions about chivalry and other such nonsense while it wouldn’t have recognized justice if it had bitten them on the ass.

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