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Being Midwestern Nice

Home Forums General Columbus Discussion Being Midwestern Nice

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  • #81249

    Bear
    Participant

    This quote from Kyle on a different thread —

    KyleEzell wrote >>

    I understand a lot of what you wrote, especially the maddening mediocrity bit about Columbus and our “Midwest nice” disposition / lack of risk that keeps us from doing truly awesome things until evidence of success exists in other places.

    — touched on something I’ve thought about a bit now and then, that might be worth throwing out for discussion: What is “Midwestern nice” and what are its implications?

    I’d heard of “Midwestern nice” long before I moved to the Midwest. My sense is that it mostly means that there are norms against public confrontation or overt rudeness. That hardly seems like a bad thing; in fact, I think outsiders who don’t see it as an odd regional quirk think of it as a good thing. I’d always been a big fan of it, personally. It wasn’t until I was looking at homes here, and our realtor mentioned “Midwestern nice” with a slightly haunted look in her eye, that I started to realize that there might be a downside.

    One possible downside is Kyle’s argument: put simply, does an unwillingness to call bullshit on people result in people getting away with more bullshit? I’m not totally convinced on this point, just because no one has yet convinced me that one has to be confrontational or overtly rude to point out flaws, problems, or shortcomings — unless “niceness” is so extreme that any discussion of anything negative is ruled out by definition.

    Another possible downside: people seem to disagree about whether or not this niceness is more than skin deep. If people really are nonconfrontational and polite, great — in fact, wonderful. But if they’re only nonconfrontational and polite when dealing with you, and then go home and tell their friends something completely different, many people would say that Midwestern nice has an unsavory element of insincerity to it.

    So what do you think? What is it, and what are its repercussions?

    Of course, people might well be too nonconfrontational or polite to discuss this topic ;-), but I thought I’d throw it out there, in honor of Jon’s challenge to everyone “to start fighting for the smaller incremental things.” Maybe this is one of them.

    #362810

    Mercurius
    Participant

    #362811

    JonMyers
    Participant

    Bear, personally for me there are a lot of cultural facets to “Mid-Western nice”. Some are good, some are passive aggressive and some are bad news.

    The good happens when socializing. Sit at any bar in Columbus next to groups of strangers and you’ll know what I mean. People feel like they’re leaving you out if they’re not engaging you. You make friends. If only all of life is a bar.

    The one that gets us in trouble is our debate style. How we vet ideas and act. The corporate and political culture can play our debate style like a fiddle. Someone who dare challenge an idea can often be seen as “out there” or “drawing too much attention”.

    I love the quality of debates I see on CU. Unfortunately, the debates mostly stay here.

    #362812
    rus
    rus
    Participant

    JonMyers wrote >>

    The one that gets us in trouble is our debate style. How we vet ideas and act. The corporate and political culture can play our debate style like a fiddle. Someone who dare challenge an idea can often be seen as “out there” or “drawing too much attention”.

    This, especially, rings true for me.

    #362813

    Tenzo
    Participant

    Midwestern Nice is: Being able to start up a conversation with anyone you meet. And often being invited to a party at a complete strangers place.

    Midwestern Nice is: The mailman talking to you for 20 minutes to explain the neighboorhood you just moved into.

    Midwestern Nice is: Being invited to bible study groups when people realize you are new to the area.

    Midwestern Nice is:

    It’s a mix of comfort and creep factor. How much of each depends upon your background.

    #362814

    racheltb
    Participant

    I grew up in Columbus, parents are from Ohio, went to school in Ohio, etc., for a little background on my Midwestern Nice cred. ;)

    I feel like it took a lot of growing up and challenge from non-mid Westerners to feel secure in doing things against the status quo. There is plenty of cultural pressure here to stay the course.

    Maybe it’s just the family I grew up in, but I also feel there is an expectation of putting others before yourself. This can be a good thing, of course, when borne out in polite invitations, opening the door for others, etc. But it also contributes to a pattern where people feel insecure speaking out or engaging in useful conflict.

    I feel like midwestern nicety results in the polarizing political issue scene in Ohio where individuals latch on to the group mentality of pro/against issue groups and are pretty nasty to the opposite ideology. We wouldn’t dare be so rude directly to their neighbor, but surrounded by a group identity it’s fine to blast gay marriage issues or participate in shady election campaigns, or use the pulpit to advocate voting a certain way.

    #362815
    Walker Evans
    Walker Evans
    Keymaster

    JonMyers wrote >>
    The one that gets us in trouble is our debate style. How we vet ideas and act. The corporate and political culture can play our debate style like a fiddle. Someone who dare challenge an idea can often be seen as “out there” or “drawing too much attention”.

    Does that come from being “Midwestern Nice” or does that come from people just playing the political game? I’ve encountered quite a few instances where various people in positions of influence will feel one way about a topic, tell you privately exactly how they feel, and then tell you publicly that they feel differently or not as strongly.

    I’ve always been under the impression that it was just politics. It’s a pretty universal trait for people to not be eager to stick their necks out when they have something to lose. And the political arena is full of that sort of thing.

    #362816

    Tenzo
    Participant

    I’ve encountered quite a few instances where various people in positions of influence will feel one way about a topic, tell you privately exactly how they feel, and then tell you publicly that they feel differently or not as strongly.

    That is East Coast Weasel

    #362817

    Bear
    Participant

    rus wrote >>

    JonMyers wrote >>
    The one that gets us in trouble is our debate style. How we vet ideas and act. The corporate and political culture can play our debate style like a fiddle. Someone who dare challenge an idea can often be seen as “out there” or “drawing too much attention”.

    This, especially, rings true for me.

    Let me push you guys on this a little bit. Sure, debate style can be strategically manipulated in a lot of contexts. But it’s not obvious to me that that automatically translates into a winning strategy in politics, at least not on a large scale, simply because the people you marginalize by using their niceness against them know that they’ve been manipulated and can vote your ass out of office at the next election. What am I missing?

    #362818

    joev
    Participant

    I think Midwest “nice” is for the most part, a very positive thing for all the obvious reasons. We take pride in acting civilly toward one another.

    Some of the downsides, I think grow out of the cultural roots of the phenomenon. I think niceness grew out of the necessity for our immigrant forebears to work together rather than against one another for success. This can and does lead to insularity. I grew up around Cleveland, and though I’m two generations removed from my immigrant family members, the sense of small spheres of community remain. As East Siders, we’d think of the West Side as light years away, and rarely ventured over there. Our family tended to have friendships with other families that crossed a lot of generations – but not as many friendships among individuals outside those family groups. Needless to say, those family friendships involved people of similar ethnic background (ie, people from the old neighborhoods.)

    Another drawback is our extreme sensitivity toward assholes. In general, a Midwesterner can pick an asshole out of lineup from 200 yards away. We hate people who crow their own success too much. We think successful people should be modest and take care of their communities. While this leads to better social cohesion, it can also lead to people to make less informed business decisions. I think we are more willing to work with someone we know and like rather than someone who is an asshole, even though working with the asshole might be more profitable in the long run.

    The same thing probably happens in politics, with voting for the guy we like more rather than the guy whose policies would help us the most.

    #362819

    LBOWACC
    Member

    IS it just me, but i do not find people in the midwest to be “nice” at all. In fact I find the midwest to be one of the more rude areas I have lived in. My entire family says the same thing. I will take the “niceness” of the south or the east coast (yes i find east coast people very friendly) anyday over the midwest. The west coast does have very rude people.

    #362820

    lisathewaitress
    Participant

    @Tenzo – you summed up the niceness pretty well – especially the helpfulness aspect. Where I found “niceness” really creepy was in the South. It’s so strange to me because you could tell that people didn’t like you, and still they were exceptionally nice.

    I also think Ohio is in a weird area to try to lump us in with other areas of the Midwest. Cleveland and Columbus have more of an East coast feel (people have motivation to move fast), whereas Cincinnati may as well be south of the Mason Dixon line.

    @JoeV – You are right on target. Midwesterners have a low tolerance for assholes and arrogant jerks. It actually took an outsider to put their finger on it for me – when talking about someone I couldn’t stand, they were like “of course you don’t like him! You’re a Midwesterner, and you hate people who brag.”

    Combine that with an Amish background, and I have developed a huge dislike for anyone who touts their accomplishments. I usually think it’s best if you let your work speak for itself.

    It also means I don’t fight for my ideas when working in groups, even when I know I’m right. Which is probably why I hated office life.

    #362821
    rus
    rus
    Participant

    Bear wrote >>

    rus wrote >>

    JonMyers wrote >>
    The one that gets us in trouble is our debate style. How we vet ideas and act. The corporate and political culture can play our debate style like a fiddle. Someone who dare challenge an idea can often be seen as “out there” or “drawing too much attention”.

    This, especially, rings true for me.

    Let me push you guys on this a little bit. Sure, debate style can be strategically manipulated in a lot of contexts. But it’s not obvious to me that that automatically translates into a winning strategy in politics, at least not on a large scale, simply because the people you marginalize by using their niceness against them know that they’ve been manipulated and can vote your ass out of office at the next election. What am I missing?

    I think the “insularity” of the mentality mentioned gets to a part of it, creating an atmosphere where group cohesion ( i.e. a “conservative” environment in the resistance to change sense ) is more important than evaluating new ideas on their merits.

    In other words, it’s not a logical weighing of pros and cons, but rather an identification of a change agent as an outsider and therefore rejecting that idea out of hand.

    #362822

    TaraK
    Participant

    I’m conflicted as to whether I think this topic unjustly whitewashes the Midwest or whether I think the mainstream Midwest culture is really just that whitewashed. (No bad vibes toward Bear here — this is a widespread topic worth discussion.) In short, I don’t find much of this commentary true. The illustrations of politness and niceness described here require a certain amount of privilege and security; you won’t see them played on in all communities because they’re not safe, wise, culturally normed or idealized in all communities. To frame them as such is to assume that the entire Midwest is structured on middle-class, working-class, semi-Protestant ethos.

    I’m sure that’s true for a large bit of the population and certainly for the majority of mainstream representation of the Midwest, but it’s a false generalization. Having grown up in a fairly homogenized white culture, I quite enjoy the fact that, since moving, I’m no longer in one.

    #362823

    Bear
    Participant

    TaraK wrote >>
    The illustrations of politness and niceness described here require a certain amount of privilege and security; you won’t see them played on in all communities because they’re not safe, wise, culturally normed or idealized in all communities. To frame them as such is to assume that the entire Midwest is structured on middle-class, working-class, semi-Protestant ethos.
    I’m sure that’s true for a large bit of the population and certainly for the majority of mainstream representation of the Midwest, but it’s a false generalization.

    Now I’m puzzled… you seem to concede that the various descriptions above apply to a considerable majority of the population (middle and working class… “certainly the majority”) but nevertheless maintain that they’re a false generalization. I don’t get the logic… do you just have a really high threshold for generalizations, or am I missing something?

    Speaking to the point, though, I’d never thought of it as the product of security and privilege. In fact, I’d implicitly assumed the opposite: that small communities, under conditions of relative scarcity, would produce norms against conflict and confrontation of the sort that we’re discussing, for the sake of survival. But I admit, that’s pure speculation.

    TaraK wrote >>
    (No bad vibes toward Bear here — this is a widespread topic worth discussion.)

    :-) Ditto, and thanks. It seems to have a taken-for-granted quality, which should have been a sign to me that the first thing worth doing was questioning its existence.

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