Inventing Nice

Inventing Nice

Easter 24


Someone asked if I thought traditional roles for women were passé.  The term literally means “passed” but is more commonly used to refer to something that is no longer fashionable or in use.  As one person defined it, passé means “a suit of outdated appearance”.  I really like that definition!  In one word, my answer to the question is “NO!”


In fact, I do not think women get enough credit for their traditional roles.  Women hold a monopoly a being mothers.  That might sound like a rather “Duh” statement; after all, only a female can be a maternal parent.  Think a bit broader, please.  Only a female can fully incubate the fertilized ovum that becomes a human being.  With all the advancements made in human fertilization techniques, we still need time in a female womb in order to grow.  No one gets born without having a mother (and father).


The purpose of this series is to give notice to those women who not only performed traditional roles but also non-traditional roles.  They not only performed them, they did them without society helping and created things that have greatly impacted our lives.  However, I am happy to shed the spotlight this week on women who created some pretty remarkable things that we often overlook.


Yesterday we talked about how playing with dolls and the invention of an adult-looking doll helps children prepare for the rest of their lives.  What might seem like simple play is actually contextual education when girls and boys make believe and put themselves into grown-up situations with such dolls like the Barbie doll and action figures.


One women adhering to traditional roles was described as “tall, pretty and spoiled. …She grew up in a world of grand estates, her life governed by carefully delineated rituals like the cotillion with its complex forms and its dances — the Fan, the Ladies Mocked, Mother Goose — called out in dizzying turns by the dance master.”   Who knew that such a woman would grow up to start a business that today includes five generations of her family and in six years will celebrate the one hundredth anniversary of her first book about etiquette?


Emily Post was born with what some might call a silver spoon in her mouth.  She followed society’s dictums for someone of her socioeconomic status and married, soon having children.  Everything was going according to traditional roles and Emily began to write.  A year her first published work, she divorced her husband for his infidelities that had allegedly made the family the target of blackmail.  Between newspaper articles, magazine stories, and books, Emily stayed busy while her sons were in boarding school.


The United States has always been a home away from home for the hundreds of thousands who immigrate here each year.  What many soon discover is the change in culture, just as travelers from the States going to distant countries often discover.  Emily Post believed strongly in the power of being nice but recognized that many were characterized as not nice simply due to a lack of understanding of local customs.  Her book “etiquette” was published in 1922 and her family business, the Emily Post Institute, opened in 1946.  It is still thriving today and is run by the wife of her great-grandson.


With politicians breaking every rule of etiquette while giving speeches and being televised in what are supposed to be respectable debates, it might appear that being nice or following the rules of etiquette is passé.  Certainly at least one frontrunner gives credit to his success in business to his being “not so nice”.  Perhaps that works for him although evidence of his past dealings might be interpreted as otherwise but when dealing with people on a worldwide basis, etiquette has been the leading language to get things accomplished.


Being “nice” has a great many advantages.  First, it can set a pleasant and effective tone when needing to reach consensus on matters.  The positive benefits of being agreeable have scientific merit.  Being agreeable is called one of the “Big Five” personality dimensions and has benefits such things as deeper and longer-lasting friendships, successful parenting, better academic performance, more successful career outcomes, and an overall better sense of physical and emotional health.


Being nice does have its drawbacks,  People who feel they must always say “yes” when asked to do something soon become overwhelmed and can even become depressed by their own agreeableness.  There really can be too much of a good thing.  It is important to not only be nice to others but also to one’s self.


Emily Post spent a great deal of her life helping people be nice and also avoid the negative ramifications of such.  Whether traveling across the street to a new neighbor or around the world to a new country, The Emily Post Institute continues her legacy that basically said “Everyone can be and deserves to be nice.”  Emily Post grew up in a time with definite class divisions and yet, with her advice on how to fit in and be sociable, she blurred those lines.  She believed that everyone can be nice, be agreeable, be successful.  More importantly, she believed there were no socioeconomic divides when it came to interpersonal advancements.  Common courtesy should be just that – common to all peoples.


Emily Post had been brought up with the maxim that “nice girls do not work”.  She made being nice her work after being successful with her romantic serialized magazine stories and later her stories as a traveling correspondent, traveling around the country and world with her sons.  She combined her traditional roles with her hobbies and invented a family business that is still thriving today.  Nice people can finish and finish successfully.





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