I’ve been reading Garnett’s Wisdom in Conduct. He talks about Tolstoi and his five rules being an oversimplification. I admire Tolstoi but I have to agree with Garnett. These kind of platitudening (if you don’t mind me inventing a word) is all too common. If we just did this or that following these simple rules the world would be a better place. Most of the rules suggest that we need to be nicer than we are now.
I am strongly opposed to simple niceness. We can do things better not nicer. Niceness is not a cause worthy to fight for. Being a better and a kinder person has its place. For instance, I often tell my students that each of us has a story, the story of our lives. Few ever get to tell the story to anyone at any time, because most of us are too wrapped up in ourselves to listen the sounds of anybody else’s beating heart. Kind of a pity, really. We have a lot to say. On the other hand, we have a lot of nonsense we talk about habitually, time killers, social recognitions, maintenance phrases (how’s the weather, etc.) and sometimes we take the serious, (I love you), and make it trivial.
The story of one’s life we should encourage and pay attention to; the trivial and annoying we should ignore and discourage. Both involve strength and judgment. Neither are just being nice. In fact, nice, may be fairly pointless unless translated with more specificity, like kindness, caring, compassion, etc.