If you grew up in the decades when I did, the 50s and 60s, you often heard one or both of your parents entreating you to “Be nice.” Here we are, quite a few decades later, and I find myself issuing the same request to my students. But this time, I am beginning to wonder exactly what that means and whether or not we have the need to deliver a more precise statement.
The meaning of nice is not universal. What I mean as far as nice is probably not the same as what you mean. But I think that if we talk more about some old values that we must teach our kids in school, doing so is ultimately much more productive than entreating them to be nice, to the teacher or to each other.
For example, it’s very common to see one child nudging, punching, or simply touching another student. When I see that, my immediate response is likely to be, “Be nice – you don’t need to touch each other.” That’s just not enough.
As vigorously as we teach our children to allow personal space and respect the rights of one another, we must also speak of the golden rule, whether we mention it by name or not. In other words, how about we treat other people the way we want to be treated. You wouldn’t like it if someone started punching or tickling you, so why would you think that it was okay to do it to someone else?
The golden rule is not exclusive to the classroom. Why would you cut someone off on the road if you don’t like it being done to you? Why tailgate if you don’t like to be tailgated? Why block an aisle in a grocery store if you become annoyed when someone prevents you from getting through an aisle?
It’s crucial that we remember to instill these values in those who might not otherwise hear about the golden rule. Being nice is simply doing unto others as you would have them do unto you. No age is too early or too late for that lesson. Maybe we all need an occasional reminder. Shalom.