Guest Column: Can Minnesota Nice usher in bullying?

Published 7:34 pm Tuesday, October 30, 2018

Guest Column by Jill Marin

Jill Marin


“If you don’t have anything nice to say, don’t say anything at all,” my mother used to tell me. I always wondered about that advice. Really? Never say anything if it doesn’t sound nice? When I advocated for what I thought was fair, Mom replied, “The fair’s in August.” I used that one on my kids many times.

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Through the years, as an ordinary person, I have enjoyed and embraced the phrase “Minnesota Nice.” It sounds so warm and wonderful. And, truly, it is a beautiful ideal if “nice” follows the portion of Webster’s definition of polite, kind and appropriate. It seems to take a different connotation, though, with the definitions of pleasing and agreeable.

As a community, and as individuals, we should always strive to be kind, polite and appropriate. We cannot, however, always be agreeable. I believe this is the inherent problem with my mother’s statement. As individuals, we are all different and have different positive and negative opinions and thoughts when considering issues. We will not always agree.

The kind and appropriate way to respond to any disagreement is with assertive communication. Being assertive means standing up for one’s own rights as well as the rights of others in a way that is respectful, rather than passively accepting something considered wrong. Unfortunately, many times we allow Minnesota Nice to dictate to us that we must be agreeable, and therefore remain silent on an issue. To speak up would not be “nice.”

When we choose to remain silent on an issue, the group in power can take advantage of and run right over the ordinary people. This can many times turn into bullying behavior. It appears that this does happen right here in our community. If the ordinary person asks a question or expresses a different opinion, that person can be shamed, ridiculed, labeled and minimized. That person can be isolated, excluded, gossiped about and lied against, and worse. In a social system, this allows the power group to stay in power and quell any insurrections, so to speak.

Friends, is this what we desire for our community? These types of behaviors are happening in local government entities such as the school district, city and county. They also are happening in various organizations, on social media and in many other arenas. Questioning is regarded as opposition, and any opposition is considered treasonous. How can we affect change to stop bullying in our young people if we allow it as adults? How can change be affected on an individual level with our children if we allow it at a social system level as adults? If we cannot accept individuals who are “different,” how will our young people ever do it?

Have we let Minnesota Nice cause us to keep our mouths shut, and thereby usher in bullying? Can the ordinary person express his or her ordinary opinion and expect to be received in a respected way? Does the ordinary person fear retaliation if views are expressed? These are serious questions to ask ourselves in our community. Be aware of the reactions you observe to this column itself.

Bullying exists on many levels. Many people in our community feel they have no voice. Why? Have we ordinary people abdicated the throne of our own voices and lives and given that power to others? If so, let’s take it back. It’s time to be “Minnesota Assertive.” Rise up, ordinary people with ordinary opinions. Now is the time for the fair. Make yourselves heard. Our community will be stronger because of you.

Jill Marin is an Albert Lea school board member seeking re-election.