There seems to be a dichotomy set up in some peoples minds between being “nice” and being “honest.” Not in the sense that “nice” people are constantly lying through their teeth, but rather a lot of us seem to believe that in order to be “nice” we can never ever tell people what we really think if it involves any kind of critique or disagreement. If we are backed into a corner then maybe maybe we might formulate some kind of meek opinion, squished into a few words saidasfastaspossibleandquicklymovedonfrom. Then there’s those who seem to think that expressing your opinions means completely disregarding the feelings of the person you’re speaking to. Being “honest” and “direct” becomes equivalent to bludgeoning someone over the head with words. What’s this all about?
I think it’s really important for us to start debunking this whole concept of “niceness.” To me, there is nothing “nice” about not telling me what you really think, or refusing to tell me your true thoughts about me or something I am doing, or anything else I could benefit from feedback about. In fact, it’s incredibly frustrating. Besides, most people can definitely tell when you’re saying something “just to be nice.” For those of us sensitive to incongruities between what someone is presenting to the world and what’s really going on inside, it’s really, really unpleasant. There is a distinct difference between consciously choosing not to engage in a certain kind of exchange because you just don’t feel like it, or know your true feelings or state of being won’t be well received in a certain environment or will cause ripples you don’t feel like dealing with–versus forcing yourself to always be perky and good-humored because you’re fundamentally afraid of people not liking you as you are. If being nice means pretending to be someone or something you are not most of the timr, then I am all for dropping the whole act!
Of course there is an element of social “survival” here. We’ve learned from generations past not to rock the boat too much and that diverging from the mainstream opinion can be dangerous, that being an outlier can lead to banishment, exclusion or worse. There are times when self-preservation requires self-effacement. Many of us don’t live in those types of environments on a daily basis however.
The Set Up
The other thing is that often when we spend all our time being”nice” we eventually end up having to blow off some steam somewhere, sometimes at very unfortunate moments and in ways that actually do come off as uncalled for. Often these mini explosions end up being directed at people close to us who most likely don’t have anything to do with the true source of our frustration. If this hasn’t happened to you yet, it may just hit you once you’ve reached an age where you no longer “care what people think” (see “crotchety old person” stereotype). On the other hand, it may be coming out in ways that you just aren’t recognizing. When we don’t allow ourselves to speak our truths in the world our bodies inevitably accumulate and manifest those emotions in one way or another!
Striking a Balance
Of course all this doesn’t mean there’s nothing to be said for tact and diplomacy. I think knowing how to voice ones opinion in a way that is sensitive to the audience you’re speaking to is an incredibly useful skill in the world. It’s part of the work of “peacemaking” in many ways as it involves being able to put yourself in someone else’s shoes, to see things from multiple perspectives and “hear” how you might sound through the filter of those receiving your words. It means knowing how to “translate” your raw emotions or thoughts from the language that might come out naturally into words that will accurately communicate what you want to say to the person listening. In other words, different people understand language differently. We need to sometimes be able to re-word things in order for other people to understand what we actually want to say. When we have a full awareness of any situation it is then up to us to judge when we need to express ourselves delicately and when we just need to “let it out raw.”
This is where the distinction between being “Nice” and being “Kind” or compassionate becomes important! Rather than thinking that in order to be a “good” person we have to hold in our emotions and opinions all the time, we can redefine things and simply use our judgment and intuition as situations arise. Sometimes it is much kinder to give someone feedback about the way they present themselves in the world rather then let them go on doing something that may be having effects they aren’t aware of. Sometimes people around us are in deep need of someone brave and sensitive enough to tell them something direct and honest in a way that they can actually receive. Learning how to hold both honesty and kindness/compassion in our hearts while addressing situations can have huge implications for ourselves and those around us!
There will also be times when the healthiest thing for you actually means disregarding everybody else and just saying what you have to say. That’s okay too! It’s all part of the process of being yourself, not in some cliche way, but in a way that also encourages that kind of authenticity in those around you! Some of us spend all our time thinking about other people’s needs to the point that finding balance means swinging completely to the other side at some point and learning how to take care of our own needs as well. Just observe yourself, see where you’re at on this whole spectrum and act accordingly. Simple enough, right? ;).