For the last few years, I had a close friend in my life who has been waging a war against being “nice.” He would become annoyed whenever I exhibited this particular behavior, and it often left me feeling judged and rejected. How could somebody tell me that I was wrong to be nice when all I was trying to do was treat people with respect? As time moved on, I gained an understanding of his definition of nice - putting others’ feelings above my own or pretending like I have positive feelings toward someone or something when I don’t. This is when I began to better understand his position. I could sense, in particular situations, that I was “just being nice.” And I knew deep down that something wasn’t right. Eventually, I realized what it was. Much of the time, when I was being nice toward others, I was not honoring myself or my own experience. It was as if I decided that everyone else’s emotional experience was more important than my own. Call it what you will from the outside - fake, disingenuous, phony - I was lying.
Last week, I wrote about transforming relationships through kindness. I strongly believe in what I wrote - that showing people kindness even in the face of disrespect can, with persistence, change the fabric of a relationship for the better. I know this from many experiences doing just that. Now, I’d like to be clear about what kindness really is. When a person is kind, they are choosing to treat another person with dignity and respect. True kindness does this regardless of the prior actions or the response of the other. But to truly be kind to others, we have to first be kind to ourselves. So, lying about how you feel to protect another person’s feelings is a betrayal of yourself. By doing this, you are not being kind to yourself!
Of course, there are good reasons so many people want to be nice. Being nice avoids hurting others. This shows a great amount of care and consideration for everybody else - just not the person doing it. As a culture, we’ve known for a long time that nice guys finish last. This is why! Those that are nice are often not honoring and respecting themselves. At its core, it’s dishonest. When a person chooses this path, they are creating doubt in their relationships. How can those close to you bestow you their trust when they know the majority of your energy is spent lying to others in order to avoid negative feelings? How can they know that you’re not doing the same thing to them?
Honesty and kindness are not contrary values. In fact, they are deeply intertwined. If friends or family you know and love hurt you and later ask if you’ve forgiven them, being honest is important. If you haven’t forgiven them and you say you have, they’ll find out, leaving you a new hurt to process: your lie to them. Instead of protecting other people’s feelings, it is our duty to be honest about how we feel. This might sound something like “I feel angry” or “I feel sad” in relation to something they’ve done. This can create space for these feelings to be seen and validated, which is an important step to letting them go. I've found that doing this while actively connecting and empathizing with the other person can allow for these feelings to be shared in a way that doesn't create more hurt. This both honors your feelings and those of the other, truly displaying an act of kindness.