No Good Being Nice
What's the issue with being nice?
"Yeah, she’s nice."
Ouch. How painfully underwhelming a person must be to get that review. They might as well have said, "Yeah, she’s fine I guess." What horror to think that someone out there would make that statement about you.
I think "Yeah, she’s nice" possibly translates to "God, I can’t stand her but I’m keeping my counsel so you don’t think I’m a bad person," or more likely, "That person is okay, but didn’t make much of an impression." Neither are good or attractive ideas. If a friend says to you, "I know them, they’re nice," you would subconsciously file this person under ‘Happy to remain strangers’ – you’re not motivated to be their friend, and you definitely have no interest in dating them.
Nice people are fine as human furniture in your periphery, it’s comforting to know that there are half-decent people whom you walk among each day, but they don’t warrant your attention. So why then do we put so much emphasis and effort into being thought of as nice? I used to think if people met me and thought I was nice, it would be the best outcome. I nodded at opinions I didn’t agree with and half-laughed at unfunny jokes; smiled and accepted situations that made me uncomfortable; kept my piece when I knew that my voice would rock the boat. All to be acceptable, to be liked, to be nice.
When you really think about it, being nice in this way is simply disingenuous. Being nice doesn’t require or expect integrity or compassion. It just simmers at surface level, not really engaging in anything genuine or real. You can’t be accepted and liked by everyone if you voice your opinion and set your boundaries, because those things just won’t agree with everyone. ‘Nice’ is often inauthentic and faked, and consistently prioritising that can only be toxic for yourself and those around you.
I know lots of people do this, especially women. We do a lot to get by without disturbing the peace. Whether it’s tolerating your boss’ childish tirade, or something as simple as allowing someone to select the film on Netflix that you’d rather pluck out your own eyelashes one-by-one than watch. We were taught to play nice and women continue to play at being nice to appease and please as many people as we can throughout our lives. A self-spawning need for approval spurns within us from a young age. At age six, children are still meant to be watched around traffic because they have not yet developed an instinct for speed, distance and time. They have, however, already begun to develop a sense of body image and are beginning to understand the importance of peer acceptance.
Girlguiding UK’s 2020 survey found that while 70 per cent of girls aged seven to ten said they were comfortable being themselves, this had decreased dramatically to 38 per cent for girls aged 17 to 21. Supposedly we’re meant to learn more about ourselves with age, but are we just learning more about what we need to hide from the world? What must that statistic be by the time these girls have left education and lived a little in ‘the real world’? It’s little wonder that 29 per cent of girls aged seven to ten find it difficult to understand their personality, interests and opinions, rising to 48 per cent when in the 17 to 21 age range. Or that 29 per cent of girls aged 11 to 21 feel afraid to express themselves. These figures dramatically increasing for girls who are part of the BAME and LGBT+ communities, or who are disabled.
Of course these girls will learn, as we all have to, that sometimes it’s unfortunately necessary to not really be ourselves; we’d all like to tell obnoxious customers off but instead we nod, pretend they’re right and get on with it because we need the job. But it isn’t always required to fake
it, and I wonder how much happier we could be if we were to relinquish just some of this need that we feel. False niceties and self-editing don’t make an impact like kindness does, like honesty and generosity, or as a quick-witted joke, clever idea or sound argument can. Nice is vacuous and without meaning. There’s so many other wonderful things within us all worth sharing with the world that will attract all the right people into our lives. The friend who thinks you are too much is not your friend. You are never going to be smart enough for the boss who doesn’t encourage or listen to you. And if he doesn’t laugh with you at the quip that might just be the funniest you’ve ever been, he probably won’t be able to understand a lot of what goes on in your beautiful brain.
You can be a good, sensitive, well-liked person with opinions and ambition, with an unapologetic sense of self and while being confident in your own talents (Have we still not appreciated the true wonder and grace of Dolly Parton?) You can do better. Simply put, it’s no good being nice.