“Don’t trade your authenticity for approval.” ~Unknown
As a nice person, I am often conflicted because sometimes I don’t enjoy being nice. Sometimes I act nice out of moral obligation or because I’m trying to be consistent with my perceived identity.
Do you view yourself as “nice”? Do others describe you as “nice”? Do you always enjoy being “nice”? If you are unsure how you are perceived by others, ask friends and family to describe you.
I’ve been told how nice I am all my life, by family, friends, coworkers, and even bosses. It was a huge part of my personal identity. When you have a perceived identity of who you are, you’ll unconsciously adjust your behaviors to reflect that identity. For me, that meant being nice and acting like a nice person, even if it wasn’t what I wanted.
Here are some questions to help you identify if you have any conflicts with being nice:
* Do you do nice things when you really don’t want to?
* Do others take advantage of your niceness?
* Have you experienced social pressure to be nice, especially as a woman?
* Are you a pushover? Are you a people-pleaser?
* Do you ever get upset, frustrated, or resentful when you are nice?
* Do you sometimes feel like your niceness is not really you?
* Is being nice at the top of your self-identity list?
* Do you ever experience conflict between your nice identity and your other identities such as achiever, assertive, or leader?
* Do you sometimes not feel proud of being nice?
If your answered yes to any of these questions, then continue reading.
What does “being nice” mean to you?
One day someone asked me this question. It was very relevant to me since I have tried to act nice for most of my life despite experiencing several of the conflicts listed above.
I developed three questions to help me define “being nice” in my own terms:
- Who is your “nice” role model, and do you want to be like them?
- What other words describe being nice to you?
- Should you act or be nice?
First question: Who is your “nice” role model, and do you want to be like them?
When I picture the extreme “nice,” I see Mother Theresa of Calcutta. She was a nun and missionary who lead several organizations to help very poor and sick people. Her charities worked with counselling groups, orphanages, schools, mobile clinics, and people with HIV, tuberculosis, and leprosy across the world.
She was also criticized for the poor medical care in her organizations, for her stance against abortion and contraception, and her belief in the importance of suffering. She wasn’t agreeable nor compassionate all the time.
Though I really admire her life’s work, I certainly am not and don’t want to be like Mother Theresa of Calcutta. I enjoy comfort, I am not selfless, and I don’t want to spend my days working with the dying.
Second question: What other words describe being nice to you?
Once we define “nice” in a way that resolves the conflicts from the questions above, we can find our own definition of being nice while still staying true to who we really are.
Is being nice the same as being kind? Generous? Giving? Non-judgmental? Empathetic? Respectful? Selfless? Polite? Caring? Passive? Friendly? Likable? Compassionate? Considerate? Generous? Here are some definitions as per google dictionary to reflect on:
* Nice: pleasant; agreeable, satisfactory
* Kindness: the quality of being friendly, generous, and considerate
* Considerate: careful not to cause inconvenience or hurt to others
* Caring: displaying kindness and concern for others
* Polite: having or showing behavior that is respectful and considerate of other people
* Respect: due regard for the feelings, wishes, rights, or traditions of others
* Selfless: concerned more with the needs and wishes of others than with one’s own
* Passive: accepting or allowing what happens or what others do, without active response or resistance
* Friendly: kind and pleasant
* Likable: pleasant, friendly and easy to like
* Empathetic: showing an ability to understand and share the feelings of another
* Compassionate: feeling or showing sympathy and concern for others
* Generous: showing a readiness to give more of something, as money or time, than is strictly necessary or expected
* Courtesy: the showing of politeness in one’s attitude and behavior toward others
* Non-judgmental: avoiding moral judgments (having or displaying an excessively critical point of view)
I decided that I don’t want to be pleasant and agreeable all the time. I want to be free to dissent, to challenge the mass opinion, and to be authentic.
For me, being nice is about having respect. It is about having consideration for other people’s opinions, feelings, desires, and rights while still remaining respectful to myself. I can be respectful of others and myself at all times and still feel authentic.
I can respectfully disagree. I can respectfully take care of my own needs. I can respectfully assert myself. I can respectfully listen and interact. I can respect differences. I can practice respect in almost any situation.
But I can’t and won’t always be selfless, generous, likable, empathetic, compassionate, friendly, non-judgmental, caring, kind, nor polite. I may choose to do so in certain situations when it is congruent with my authentic self, but I won’t commit to doing it all the time. You shouldn’t have to deny your own needs nor your interests to be nice.
Third question: Should you act or be nice?
There is also a difference between displaying concern for others and being concerned for others. You can be concerned and not display it, and you can also force yourself to display concern but not be concerned. But you can’t force yourself to be concerned when you aren’t. The same way you can’t force yourself to feel and be nice if you’re not.
When you act nice and don’t mean it, you are inconsistent with who you are at the core. That is hard to sustain for long periods of time. And eventually it erodes trust with others.
You are human, and therefore you are entitled to have flaws and to not be a spiritual hero. You are entitled to be nice on some days and not nice in others. You are entitled to your needs and desires. You are entitled to put yourself first, to not be generous when you don’t want to be generous, and to not be likable when it doesn’t feel right, as long as you do it without disrespecting others.
Find your real definition of nice. It shouldn’t feel hard, forceful, or negative. Remember that even your role models were not nice, caring, and selfless with everyone at all times. Examine what makes sense for you in most situations. Don’t define your fixed identity with occasional behaviors. It will only confuse you, reduce your self-confidence, and reduce the real impact that you can bring to the world.