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Holly Elissa Bruno
Hey, Janet, your mention of the word nice, especially
when you said your colleague was both nice and a fierce
advocate, got me pumped. Why? The answer is simple:
niceness can be a cover for conflict-avoidance, for going along to get along,
and for pretending to be just fine when we are unhappy, sad, or just plain
angry. This phenomenon is what my colleague Luis-Vicente Reyes calls “the
hegemony of niceness”: the command to be nice is so strong that anyone
perceived of as not nice is in danger of ostracism. I had to look up the word
hegemony. Hegemony is defined by Merriam-Webster’s Dictionary as “prepon-
derant influence or authority over others.”
For us in ECE, Luis-Vicente Reyes’s words mean that the pressure to be
nice is so dominant that if anyone speaks up, speaks out without prettify-
ing her words, especially if she confronts someone, is cruising for a bruising.
“Make nice” means “don’t rock the boat.” Sure, some aspects of making nice
are worthy, like being kind, accepting, forgiving, and upbeat. Those other
aspects, like inauthenticity and sugarcoating? Not so much. How can we make
a difference if we don’t rock someone’s boat?
Want evidence for the hegemony of niceness? Consider this data:
• Eighty percent of early childhood leaders are conflict-avoidant (Bruno
Seventy percent of women take things personally and get their feelings
hurt (Myers et al. 1998).
• More than half of early childhood professionals say they regularly
experience gossip, negativity, and backbiting at work (Bruno 2007).
By demanding niceness over directness, we end up with early childhood
settings where conflicts are dealt with indirectly, usually through gossip or
backbiting. Gossip allows us to release our anger and surround ourselves with
supporters while never facing the person who offended us directly. What are
we modeling for our children?
In the New York Times (December 11, 2005), Alexandra Starr reported that
even four-year-old girls are forming exclusive cliques. Or, as I heard a pre-
schooler say to another preschooler, “I’m not going to play with Madison for
a hundred years, are you?” You can bet your paycheck that Madison will feel
the sting of being rejected by her classmates even though Madison’s offense
was to be from a different culture, socioeconomic class, or have a different
OU R WAY TO SIN CER ITY 7