On Being “Nice”

Here is the dic­tio­nary mean­ing of nice.
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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