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September 2022

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On Being Nice by The School of Life

Written by , Posted in Reviews

Two Stars

Best for:
I am not going to recommend this to anyone, though I could imagine that perhaps fans of Jordan Peterson might find this to be right for them? Not for any specific reason, just a feeling I have.

In a nutshell:
The best I can describe this is as the book form of one of those personality tests management consultants rely on that don’t have any backing in science and yet very confidently reduces everyone down to a series of dichotomies.

Worth quoting:
Nope.

Why I chose it:
This is how The School of Life (authors of this book) describes itself: “We are a passionate group of people devoted to psychology, philosophy, therapy, art and culture – and on a mission to build exemplary tools that bring about growth, calm and self-understanding.” Sounds fairly up my alley, especially the philosophy aspect. Turns out, not so much.

Review:
There are a few different perspectives out in the world on the concepts of ‘nice’ and ‘kind,’ but most of the ones I tend to agree with are those that view ‘nice’ as a sort of outwardly performance, whereas kindness is an action that shows caring for someone else. It’s fascinating to me that the authors chose to focus on being nice, and not kind, but in reading this book, I’m not even sure they got that right.

This book seems to be deeply invested in archetypes and the idea that in every category of being, people are either a or b, and these types are both diametrically opposed to each other and also not entirely sophisticated or deep. And somehow at the same time, each of these types within a category had me saying ‘what?’, ‘huh?’, or ‘how on earth did you come to that conclusion?’

For example – they talk about people who are Polite vs people who are Frank and that this stems from ‘a contrasting set of beliefs about human nature.’ Huh? What? After reading the chapter, I’m still not entirely sure what they mean, but nearly everything I wrote in the margins was some version of ‘that doesn’t make any sense’ or ‘show your work.’ Similarly, the chapter that talks about shyness – YIKES. Deeply insulting and just unnecessarily weird.

The book also talks about the value of flirting (what? why?) and offers some suggestions about how to be a friend. The latter isn’t entirely void of interesting and possibly helpful suggestions; basically just enough to keep me from assigning this book one star instead of two. But overall, it feels almost like an alien was given a few books to read and movies to watch, and then asked to write a book on human behavior based on that very limited experience.

I think perhaps the authors were meaning to write a book on how to be the sort of person other people might want to be friends with? Maybe? It still wouldn’t be a book I’d recommend, but this version just makes very little sense to me, and where it is coherent, it’s not backed up with any support.

Recommend to a Friend / Keep / Donate it / Toss it:
Toss it (along with another book by the same organization that I won’t even attempt to read)

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