Hey, Everyone, Be Nice!

At RWA 2015, an editor from Pocket Books answered a question on diversity by saying that ‘diverse’ topics/authors were published in a couple of particular lines and not as part of the general list. The implication was that authors (not even just books, which is bad enough) would be channelled to lines based on ethnic origin. (Obviously, agents representing non-white authors would thus find them a harder sell, with fewer chances for publication.)

Rightly, the RWA has come down on this like a ton of bricks, refusing to accept corporate flannel from Pocket (who say this isn’t their policy) and demanding a clear commitment to equal treatment for all RWA members. This is a professional issue and that’s what they’re for.

Today board member Alyssa Day tweeted this:

nice 1

‘Be nice’. Be nice.

The RWA is a membership organisation for professionals, with a substantial admittance fee. Its remit is to protect members’ interests. They are doing their job by going after a publisher who, according to their own editor, are behaving in a way that damages some RWA members’ interests.

And someone thinks they should be nice? Nice! What has ‘nice’ got to do with a professional dispute? What is there to be nice about?

There is currently a horrendous, damaging row going on in m/m romance. Some LGBT people reacted to material they found offensive and hurtful in forthright (or rude) terms; other people basically told them to shut up and sit down, it escalated. And a lot of people have ignored the hurt being complained of, and instead focused on the tone and manner in which the complaints were made. Because they were angry and blunt about stuff people liked. They weren’t being nice.

Now, I’m an author. I know words matter. I know people react differently to different tones. I know that it’s possible to put your case politely, and can be much more effective to do so.

I’m also a woman. I know that putting your case politely can also make it much easier for people to ignore you. I know that it’s possible to say the same thing politely a dozen times, and be ignored, and then when you finally stop being polite, they say, “Calm down, love!” or “There’s no need to shout!” as though raising your voice the thirteenth time is completely unreasonable.

And I’m a human being. I recognise that actually, sometimes, people are no longer able to put their case politely because they are driven to expletive-peppered fury by the relentless goddamn bullshit of other people…

…who then turn around and say, “Hey, be nice!”

Be nice when someone’s treating you as if you don’t matter, as if people like you have never mattered, when your pain is dismissed as less important than the comfort or embarrassment or convenience of the person causing your pain. Be nice.

Of course I don’t mean it’s good for everyone to shout and rage all the time, as if that’s the only alternative. I prefer civil discussion to shouting and raging too. I would much rather that everyone spoke respectfully, which is only likely to happen when everyone listens respectfully. Let’s try to do that, shall we?

But let’s have a clear example about telling people to be nice.

When my 7-year-old son comes up to me whining, “It’s not fair, my horrible sister won’t play with me because she’s horrible,” that is a teachable moment. That is a time to talk about tone, and being nice, and how the way you approach people makes a difference to how they listen.

When my 7-year-old son comes up to me with a cut lip shrieking that a boy hit him and took his football, I don’t tell him, “Speak more clearly and don’t cry, your tone of voice must be calm and reasonable.” I don’t tell him, “You’re angry, and anger isn’t nice, so that boy deserves the football more than you do.” Instead, I try to fix his problem, his real and legitimate distress, because that is what we do when someone is actually hurt.

Assuming we give a damn for people’s hurt, of course. Which we would, if we were nice.

Let’s be nice.

10 replies
  1. Chris
    Chris says:

    While I agree with you about most, if not all, of this, I just want to clarify what you said on the last example you used in regards to what you would do if your child was hurt by some other kid. Not that I disagree with your point, just that (and I’m sorry if I’m wrong since what I know about parenting couldn’t even fill one panel of a pamphlet) after you listen to your son and try to understand where his pain is coming from, it wouldn’t be the done thing to then tell your kid that the next time he saw the ball-stealing prick he was to punch him in the face. Correct? No matter how much the kid might deserve it.

    Hearing someone’s pain, understanding someone’s pain, feeling someone’s pain is vitally important. Especially when you are the one who caused it in the first place. Being knocked upside the head is perhaps not the best way to understand this, though.

    Because there is a difference between not being nice and being an asshole.

    By all means, let us shout and demand and make people listen to us. We have a message that needs to be heard. Sometimes when people talk over you, demand you wait your turn, to be nice, they only mean shut up and do what I say. When that is happening the only recourse may be to speak louder and speak longer until they bloody well get that you will not sit down and shut up. Some thing, vitally important things like what is going on in the lgbt genres right now, need to be heard.

    But not staying quiet is not the same as using your words to hurt others just because you are bleeding and want some company.

    Our message can not just be a list of grievances and wounds inflicted. Not just. Those things do need to be addressed, because if we can not feel safe here, then what is being said is that we are not of here. That we do not and have never belonged. We are the ones who helped build this community, we have the same rights to its future as we are responsible for its past.

    There must be more, though. Because getting people to listen is only step one. What do we want to happen after that, and how do we get there? How are we to change things if those who would not listen are only silent because we became the bullies? We want people to listen to us. To understand us. To see that we can and need to be united on this and so much else. But we should want more than that. I want more than that. I want people to change. I want action. I want to see where we can go together. Listening is step one. I want us to survive to see step two.

    And I’m not sure we will ever get to step two by tearing each other apart. By having our pain ignored. By resorting to name calling and hateful remarks. By standing by while everything and everyone that kept me sane and whole in my darkest moments slash at each other so we can all be participants in the who has the most mortal wound game.

    I am not and will never ask people to be quiet or to shut up. The truth and pain we bring is real and worth healing. But the end game needs to be that. Healing. We must fight this battle because it is a battle worth fighting, but I ask, I implore, that our goals be not to destroy the other side as payment for the injuries we have suffered. Let our fight be for all of us.

    Let us fight.
    Let us listen.
    Let us, all of us, find a way out of this.

    • KJ Charles
      KJ Charles says:

      Aside from “we became the bullies”, which is super problematic for me, I agree with your principle. (The issue with that is basically, as a recent blog post said, when you’re used to privilege, equality feels like oppression. In a 50/50 male/female room, men feel talked down if women talk for 50% of the time. So it’s very easy for the majority, the ones with all the power, to cry they’re being ‘bullied’ over a fraction of what they knowingly or unthinkingly expect other people to put up with all the time.)

      God knows the raging battles are awful. I’m bitterly unhappy. But the first step to reconciliation HAS to be the majority listening respectfully to what they’re being told and acting, instead of saying ‘don’t criticise things I like’. Apologising for the crass remark or the misrepresentation, trying to put right the wrong. We can’t heal as a community with knives still sticking in the wounds (sorry, that metaphor needs work, it’s early).

      I’m a reconciliationist sort of person. But it’s absolutely not up to me to tell people who’ve been hurt how to respond. So I’m just going to try hard not to hurt others myself, and start from there. How much good that will do, I dunno. It’s a start.

      • Chris
        Chris says:

        Yeah, now that I think about it, the bullies part probably wasn’t all that well thought out. People might feel like it is bullying, but it may just be a reaction to long held privilege. I’ve been on both sides so I get that and agree.

        I realized after I posted that a lot of what I wrote only had to deal with one side of the issue (probably because it is the one I most closely identify with) but I fully believe that the people on the other side have a responsibility to listen and absorb what is being said. That is a huge part of what needs to happen now. They have to hear not only the words, but the lives behind them. Because if the won’t then there really is nowhere to go forward. I honestly don’t know how many more times we can go thru this. It keeps coming back over and over and we never get a chance to heal from any of it. At some point it is going to kill us, or at least kill what good parts are left.

        We can be a community, together, or we can just be a bunch of people who like books but can’t stand each other. I know which one I prefer.

        That isn’t even factoring in the issue of this genre being largely dependent on each other to sustain a healthy and dependable market for books.

        If no one can be bothered to let go of their pride long enough to see what is going on or what is being said, I don’t know if there will be much choice on what happens next.

  2. Karen Wellsbury
    Karen Wellsbury says:

    Over the last months it’s become harder for me to remain ‘nice’ about the ignorance that seems to be getting more and more vocal. When I started reading queer romance at the tail end of 2013 and started to connect with others, I felt welcomed and included in a diverse community. It appears these days that those who disagree with the mainstream, or voice dissent are shot down because of the tone of their argument, not the content.
    And while I have been guilty of the play nice argument myself I feel that when people have tried to present a cohesive argument, and are ignored or talked over and opinions dismissed it’s time to be more vocal and not less.
    It’s a huge shame that some people seem to forget that if you are writing about those who are marginalised, when those people tell you that something is wrong, or hurtful you should listen first, and listen second and talk BEFORE you defend yourself.
    And honestly, being nice, totally overrated.

    • KJ Charles
      KJ Charles says:

      “Be nice” in the context of tone policing an argument is just “shut up”. That’s very clear. And I feel very strongly that if you want other people to be nice you should be nice yourself, where “nice”=”trying to do right by other people”. I don’t think it’s “nice” to dismiss other people’s hurt, and I don’t think you get to ask niceness of others if that’s how you’re behaving yourself.

      As you say; listening. We really need a lot more of that.


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