On Being “Nice”

Here is the dic­tio­nary mean­ing of nice.
nice
adjec­tive
pleas­ant, lik­able, agree­able, per­son­able, con­ge­nial, ami­able, affa­ble, genial, friendly, charm­ing, delight­ful, engag­ing; sym­pa­thetic, sim­patico, com­pas­sion­ate, good.

 

In this arti­cle I’d like to look into what being nice actu­ally means in a rela­tion­ship. All the above applies and there is more. You can be pas­sively nice and actively nice.

Pas­sive nice­ness is when you react to your part­ner “nicely.” If you are made wrong about some­thing you don’t need to imme­di­ately become defen­sive and counter-attack. You can be nice about it and take the crit­i­cism, under­stand where your part­ner is com­ing from and offer, but not insist on, your expla­na­tion. If you are asked to do some­thing you don’t want to do, you can be “nice” about it and refuse politely and make a counter offer, if appro­pri­ate, being mind­ful of your partner’s feel­ings. Being nice in this cat­e­gory also includes not speak­ing your mind as a reac­tion to your partner’s behav­ior (such as: you’re fat) lest you hurt their feel­ings. I am sure you can come up with more exam­ples of nice reac­tive or pas­sive behavior.

Now, what does it mean to be actively nice? Active nice­ness requires a con­scious alert­ness to other people’s feel­ings and state of mind so that you can jump in and offer your help, assis­tance, or con­tri­bu­tion with­out being asked to. Yes, in dif­fer­ent cul­tures and cir­cum­stances this may come across as intru­sive on their pri­vacy, and some­times it may well be, but that is what is often required in true rela­tion­ships and true friend­ships. Per­sonal “pri­vacy” bound­aries shrink the closer we are to each other.

We are often bet­ter equipped to bet­ter see what’s “wrong” in cer­tain sit­u­a­tions that our part­ner or friend may be in than they can because we are usu­ally more emo­tion­ally dis­en­gaged and can see a sit­u­a­tion more “real­is­ti­cally.” We may see a sit­u­a­tion from a dif­fer­ent per­spec­tive that is unavail­able to the other, or have some­thing to offer (knowl­edge, insight or a mate­r­ial object or skill) that the other per­son does not know we have, doesn’t want to ask for, or didn’t think of at the time.

There is a fine line between being nice or help­ful and being pushy. Offer­ing your help or assis­tance with­out the other person’s con­sent may be very annoy­ing or even rude — in fact, quite the oppo­site of “nice.” Griev­ances with which your friend may come to you may not require your help at all. In fact, the only help and the nicest thing you can do is just lis­ten. (Men are par­tic­u­larly good at offer­ing unwanted help and solu­tions, which can be very annoy­ing to women.)

The say­ing that you should “treat oth­ers the way you want to be treated” may apply to some very lim­ited sit­u­a­tions among the peo­ple of the same cul­ture, age, gen­der, etc., who more or less share the same out­look on life and the world view. But, in the world of diver­sity in which we live, to “treat oth­ers the way THEY want to be treated,” is much more appro­pri­ate. For this you need to be much more sen­si­tive and alert to other’s needs and wants if you want to be “nice.”

Now, is being “nice” such a good thing to be that you should always be nice to every­one? NO, vehe­mently it is NOT. All peo­ple, includ­ing strangers, deserve to be given the ben­e­fit of the doubt and be treated nicely (pas­sively) and with respect of their per­sonal bound­aries to start off with. The closer you get, the more active nice­ness you will be allowed to demonstrate.

On the other hand, if you are threat­ened or bul­lied nice­ness will just get you into more trou­ble. Also, you need to beware of cer­tain types of peo­ple, such as psy­chopaths, sociopaths (cor­po­rate or crim­i­nal), and oth­ers with severe per­son­al­ity dis­or­ders, who do not appre­ci­ate nice­ness and will only use it to their advan­tage and ulti­mately to your demise.

I am sure you’ve heard about the con­cept of “tough love.”  On the sur­face, tough love cer­tainly looks any­thing but nice. Tough love may not look nice, but it cer­tainly demon­strates your com­mit­ment to the well­be­ing of another. And I think that that is nice.

In con­clu­sion, being nice is not the same as merely being polite. Your par­ents can teach you to be polite, but being nice is your per­sonal trait and can­not be taught, but it may be devel­oped. Close­ness and inti­macy in a rela­tion­ship is cre­ated and allowed by “niceness”.

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The Right to Be Wrong

Our cul­ture is built for win­ners. Every­one else is a loser. Whose aim in life is to be a loser? Not me, cer­tainly, and I per­son­ally don’t know of any­one who has. So, what do we do in the game of win­ning? We try to be right as much as we pos­si­bly can. Even if we know we are wrong we will try to con­vince oth­ers that we are right, or we will look like losers. “Look­ing good” is impor­tant. It projects a win­ner.  And I don’t mean just looks, but a gen­eral per­cep­tion of oth­ers that we are “in the know,” that we are always right, that we know what we are talk­ing about, that our judg­ments are cor­rect. We want to be trust­wor­thy and reli­able. We want to be RIGHT. We expect that oth­ers want to be right too and we “know” that if we admit that we are wrong oth­ers will not only gloat, make us look bad, lose respect for us, but also take advan­tage of us in every way possible.

All these attempts at being right are masks to hide behind in order to look good, but being always right is an impos­si­ble task to accom­plish. Suc­cess­ful peo­ple in busi­ness and in rela­tion­ships (busi­ness is made of rela­tion­ships like most any other action in life) have made dis­pro­por­tion­ally more mis­takes and have been many times more wrong than right.

The road to suc­cess is paved with failures.

One of the main com­plaints in unsuc­cess­ful rela­tion­ships is “we fight a lot.” Why do peo­ple fight? You guessed it: each per­son keeps insist­ing they are right by furi­ously jus­ti­fy­ing their posi­tion, by mak­ing their part­ner wrong and inval­i­dat­ing their partner’s point of view in order to win an argu­ment, so as not to be per­ceived as a “loser”. This down­ward spi­ral causes ver­tigo from which it is hard to recover.

So how do win­ners deal with los­ing, with being wrong and recover from their mistakes?

The rule of thumb is: the more insis­tent, sig­nif­i­cant and seri­ous you are about being right the more dif­fi­cult it is to recover, which implies that the more will­ing you are to admit, or could be wrong, and the sooner you can do it, the eas­ier it is to stop the down­ward spi­ral into rela­tion­ship dis­in­te­gra­tion. If you screw up a lot, you would even have to use that dreaded action to pub­li­cally or for­mally APOLOGIZE, which most peo­ple avoid like the plague.

I like to say that your rela­tion­ship is as good as your last conversation.

My inten­tion in this arti­cle is to uncover the lunacy of spend­ing our ener­gies, and indeed our lives, try­ing to be right about every­thing. Only peo­ple with low self-esteem and a low opin­ion of them­selves insist on being right all the time in a futile attempt to hide their inse­cu­ri­ties. If you are one of those peo­ple I sug­gest that you start doing exactly the oppo­site. Start being authen­tic. Stop hid­ing behind your right­eous­ness. Oth­ers will admire you for your courage, which most likely they them­selves do not have.  Peo­ple want to be right for fear of not being accepted, being shunned, rejected, not respected and, of course, not loved, when in fact the result is quite opposite.

This is how we “intu­itively” react to sit­u­a­tions when the right actions may be quite counter-intuitive: Most of our behav­ior is con­ducted from our rep­til­ian brain, our fight or flight instinct. We some­how uncon­sciously equate a chal­leng­ing con­ver­sa­tion with an encounter with a saber-tooth tiger. This brain, which has direct access to the emo­tional cen­ter (the amyg­dala), decides our actions. Becom­ing aware of what is REALLY hap­pen­ing, i.e., pro­cess­ing it through your con­scious mind (the neo-cortex), will uncover other pos­si­bil­i­ties and oppor­tu­ni­ties to “sur­vive” a con­ver­sa­tion with­out the knee-jerk reac­tion of hav­ing to be right.

In con­clu­sion: enjoy being wrong. You might as well, because most of the time you are. Con­sider that your beliefs are just that: YOUR beliefs, not nec­es­sar­ily facts. Allow oth­ers to have theirs. The world is not made to your spec­i­fi­ca­tions. Be gra­cious with oth­ers by allow­ing them to be wrong with­out beat­ing them up about it and mak­ing them wrong about being wrong. In other words, stop being right about their being wrong. If not imme­di­ately, but soon, they will start to rec­i­p­ro­cate, which ulti­mately leads to a great rela­tion­ship where each of you can be com­pletely authen­tic, and have the free­dom to be yourself.

To have a great rela­tion­ship you must give up the right to be right. Be a winner!

Good luck.

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