A critique of being nice

I am often told that I am nice. I usually take this as a compliment and I suspect it is mostly meant as one. But I have also spent a lot of time thinking about the ways being habitually nice has actually been a hindrance in my life, mainly in social settings. Additionally I think it is very related to being shy. So this is a list of ways I think being nice can make life more difficult if it is taken to excess. Of course, like most of my articles, it’s not based on any hard data, just my own observations from my life and people I have known.

Making niceness meaningless
When you are too nice too often, the very act of being nice means less and less. Like everything, it is understood and appreciated through comparison. If you are too nice, you may simply fade into the background and be forgotten. That, or be thought of as some kind of standby personality. As in, no one has to worry about you because you’ll be there if you are needed.

Coming Across as Insincere
If you are always nice, others may simply assume you never say what you really think. Whether that’s true or not may vary, but I don’t think it inspires trust or confidence in others. How can anyone trust your opinion when you are nice by default.

Missing out on social bonding
It may not be a very fair activity, but vilifying someone, even in trivial ways,  in a group can be a bonding experience. I think it is particularly so among people who are just getting to know one and other. It probably falls in the realm of mob mentality, but in very small doses, I think it can be a useful tool. If you always give people the benefit of the doubt and don’t go along with the occasional group criticism of another, you may find yourself somewhat marginalized. Of course if you are the unlikely combination of nice and confident, you might assert your anti judgement on the rest of the group. But then you run the risk of alienating the one in the group who initiated the criticism.

Making others feel guilty
Like previously mentioned, when you refuse or are simply not inclined to be at all openly critical of people you run the risk of alienating others who have made judgements. They may simply stop sharing their thoughts with you to avoid feeling guilty. This extends well beyond group interactions and into one on one bonding. I think this kind of interaction may actually be more about the bonding than the judgement being made.

You may be a poor judge of character
When you always give people the benefit of the doubt, it is a given that some of them don’t deserve it. Being nice all the time may make you assume others will act similarly. I think this can be to the detriment of useful observations.

Making it harder for people to know when you really care
This is related to coming across as insincere. When you want to tell someone that you care, it may be difficult for them to distinguish between that and your usual niceties.

Being taken advantage of
If you are always nice to someone, even when they do things that bother you, they will assume your fine and continue to behave the same way. They might constantly ask too much of you because you always seem happy to do it. They will likely not even realize they are taking advantage of your good nature. Really you are giving them permission to take advantage. You might think it should be obvious that you are not happy about things, but that is likely an effect known as “The Illusion of Transparency”. Also if the task in question is already done with when you interact with whoever is doing the asking, you may be incline to simply gloss over the difficulties of the task because you are not feeling them at the moment. Then there is always the risk that things will build inside you until you have an outburst of some kind. From another persons perspective, you would have gone instantly from happy to freaking out.

Nice and shy
It seems to me that some degree of niceness comes from shyness, or more generally from fear. For me I think it is partly the the fear from not knowing what other people are thinking or how they will react. Of course this theory is retrospective. I can only really speculate, since the act is entirely habitual for me at this point in my life. I know how I appreciate it when others are nice to me, so on some level I must expect them to feel the same thing. The main thing I seem to be realizing is that I think it is inevitable and therefore necessary to hurt someone in order to form a strong emotional bond with them. Or at least it is VERY effective. Actually, let me rephrase that. You have to be willing to RISK hurting someones feelings in order to form a strong emotional bond with them, because if you are never willing to risk offending them in some way, you will likely never put yourself out there enough for anyone to really get to know you.

This concept is kind of counter intuitive to me, so instinctually I tend to do the exact opposite. I really have to force myself not to worry, when saying anything with even the remotest possibility of being offensive. Moreover, it is pointless being over cautious about others feelings, because you may end up hurting them anyway. In addition, the thing you decided was inappropriate or mean, may end up being helpful. Not everyone reacts in ways you can predict. Of course, like everything, there is a balance.

So I guess in summation, I’m just recommending that people who feel like they are constantly missing their moments in life, should not worry so much about being nice, and maybe even actively fight it. It’s more about your own fear than it is about being kind to others. Being kind is not something I think deserves critique.

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