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Nice Versus Kind

Author Hana Shafi wrote, “Real kindness lives in my nana’s famous expression- loosely translated, it means ‘Do good and then throw it in the well.’ It means you should do a good thing and then forget about it, not expecting to receive anything in return. Sure, that good may come back to you one day when you least expect it, but don’t sit around waiting. The magic of kindness happens when you give genuinely…Niceness is easy, but kindness can sometimes be hard. Kindness required you to learn, listen and give…Nice makes you pleasant but stagnant. Kindness will help you grow.”

On Sunday, I was reminded of the idea of niceness being more transactional- and less about challenging change and growth; even better, it came from an example that featured one of our outstanding Alumnae.

Jonathan Malloy, the Hon. Dick and Ruth Bell Chair in Canadian Parliamentary Democracy at Carleton University, wrote a letter to the editor in response to a Globe and Mail article about supporting gender parity in theory, not in practice. His letter highlighted the advocacy for women by an Alumna of St. Clement’s School.  

He wrote, “Columnist Rita Trichur tells the story of the 1970s Royal Bank of Canada chairman who said he could find no qualified women for the board of directors, noting ‘his absurd comments prompted a dust-up with a female shareholder.’ That shareholder was almost certainly the late Ruth Bell of Ottawa. In 1974, Ms. Bell withheld her proxy vote in advance of the bank’s annual meeting to protest the lack of women on the board. The chairman phoned her personally and said, “Why don’t you be a nice girl and let me exercise your ballot?” Ms. Bell, decidedly not a girl, pushed back in outrage, leading to further protests that provoked the 1976 comments. Ms. Bell got the last word in her memoir of a lifetime of feminist activism. She titled it Be a “Nice” Girl!

Ruth Bell graduated in 1938 and was Head Girl that year. I had the great good fortune to have many visits with her in her last years and have a signed copy of her book. Ruth’s legacy remains as she established an endowment fund to contribute to financial aid for students who might not otherwise be able to attend St. Clement’s School.

It is clear to me that Ruth knew that, as Shafi notes, “Nice makes you pleasant but stagnant!”

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