I don’t recall a great deal about kindergarten, which tells you a bit about my age, I suppose. I recall my nice teacher, Miss Kuechner. And my very best friend, Lisa, who’s still my best friend – we both liked dinosaurs and horses a great deal. The dinosaur thing didn’t last but the horse thing did. I remember making tiny Niñas, Pintas and Santa Marias for Columbus Day and I still have mine, half of a walnut shell filled with pink clay out of which sticks a toothpick mast with a little paper sail. My mother saved it, carefully wrapped in tissue paper. You’d think she was protecting a great work of art.
I also recall Miss Kuechner’s admonition to “make nice” when things got mean in the schoolyard. There was one boy in particular, named Leif (I always remember his name because I thought he must be related to Leif Erikson), who seemed to be instructed to make nice more than anyone else. He was a bully of a little kid who picked on boys and girls alike, and I recall feeling sorry for him because he was kind of a sad kid to watch. I don’t remember him ever picking on me, but I was taller, so maybe he knew better. Miss Kuechner would haul him off of whomever he was bullying that day, hold the two of them apart and say sternly, “Make nice. Now.” I wonder if she realized how essentially useless that command was when it came to Leif?
But it generally worked with the rest of us, particularly for the girls, since it was supposed to be more lady-like to be nice. In my era’s upstate New York kindergarten, we were encouraged to strive for a ladylike life. Some of it stuck, some of it didn’t, thank goodness.
Poor Miss Kuechner would probably be disappointed that I don’t find “making nice” a particularly helpful construct in conflict, though I see an awful lot of us doing it anyway.
Don’t get me wrong. There’s a place to make nice and walk away. But in the important relationships and conflicts in our lives, making nice can be an act of avoidance that actually creates more distance in the long run.
I recently wrote about finding your “right voice” in conflict. One part of that search is learning when to skip the superficial apology and handshake, and instead step into the difficult conversation and deal with the issues that determine how strong that relationship is for the long haul.
Now that’s making nice.