Any thinking and feeling person has been through a Be Nice or Be Mean dilemma. The good news is that this is not a dichotomy.
We can choose one of the following: (1) be nice, (2) be mean, or (3) avoid making any response.
My issue with the last option is that it is not easily available and is only a temporary solution. Often, it does more bad than good.
Emotions and ego are parts of what makes us beautifully flawed humans. But these lead us to the nice or mean trap.
Being nice is a default that comes from our upbringing, values, and, as I would like to believe, from everyone’s innate kindness. It comes naturally among countless people I know.
However, many times in a day, being nice is a hard thing to do.
What’s harder is staying nice after it burned you.
When we are nice, we seem to set ourselves on fire. People perceive niceness as an opportunity to abuse. Nice people are bully targets. Nice people are pushovers. Nice people are left to do what others refuse to do. Nice people get ignored and bypassed. Nice people don’t hit rock star status. Nice people don’t get promoted and they make less money.
Michelle Obama rallies, “When they go low, we go high.” That’s tough. I will not even imagine a life in politics where being nice will probably get you nowhere.
A knee-jerk reaction when people go low is to form any kind of defense and self-protection, or to counter-attack. Being mean may be an easier and more intuitive response.
There are millions of stimuli—small and big—which hurdle the walk of niceness.
In a toxic environment of gossip, backstabbing, power trips, and deception, being mean has become a survival tool. I do not know a single person who was not a victim to gossip. I do not know a single fully-functioning adult who has never witnessed or taken a role in backstabbing, power trips and deception. Malice is a dirty thing that starts even among pre-teens obsessed about being cool. I always wonder how people can do nothing, and yet still become subject to envy and resentment.
In the times we choose the high road and grandly ignore the hurt that other people cause, the falling out cannot be helped. We may lose a little warmth. We may smile a little less. We may grow a little chip on our shoulders.
Traffic and lawless driving create road rage in any driver I know. Being cut in line when hungry gets me riled. (Who am I kidding? Almost anything irks me when I’m hungry.) Waiting agitates people, most especially when it is followed by neither an apology nor an explanation. Lack of courtesy and professionalism affect us. Arrogance stings us. Tiny habits of some people get to our skin.
We have come to expect a certain kind of civilized behavior from family, friends, acquaintances, peers, and even people we don’t know.
We all have a fetish or two. Maybe a dozen.
I don’t know anyone who can proclaim to be an expert at perpetual kindness because no one is. We value our egos and we regard ourselves with respect. Not all people can treat us with the respect we deserve.
Worse, some people disrespect us or respect us less for the color of our skin, our religion and beliefs, our gender, where we’re from, our rank, our role, and countless other reasons; many of which we cannot or should not control just to please others.
What can we do when it’s hard and getting harder to be nice? How can we pull ourselves back to the truth of our inherent kindness and not gravitate towards the low of disappointment and/or hate?
Let me list a few things now, because I need them. Most of these things are reflective, introspective and mindful efforts to go back to our deep center, where the responses start.
I am certain that it is as important for you as it is for me to control our responses and do the tough job of being nice.
- Take a deep breath and err on the side of silence.
- Be okay with not having the last word. It may be an advantage.
- Go out for a walk and heal from fresh air.
- Get a big gulp of water. Let it calm you.
- Start a mental dialogue. Listen to your gut but question it as well.
- Find a quiet spot and meditate. If you don’t meditate, listen to any music that calms you. Find something that soothes you.
- Talk to a loved one without necessarily asking for advice. The exercise of explaining a situation and your feelings can already help you put things in perspective.
- Ask yourself many times about what truly and deeply matters.
- Determine the result you want.
- Know what you’re willing to do to get the result you want. Then ask yourself if it’s worth it.
- Rethink people. Try, no matter hard, to assume that people who hurt you have good intentions.
- In your head, make peace with the people who hurt you. Maybe it will manifest itself. Or maybe it will just make you feel better.
- Be unafraid to ask yourself if you may be overreacting. Believe me, we are all prone to overreact.
- Laugh at yourself. (My husband taught me this.)
- Be aware of your feelings. Label them. Then you’ll have the power to shift those feeling gears and control them.
- Mind over matter. Think about other better things.
- Pray about the people and things you really have no control over.
- Prepare yourself to make sensitive conversations that are not meant to hurt others.
- Be honest to people, but know that honesty is a risk that doesn’t always pay off. It will just give you peace, which is a bigger payoff than you can ever ask for.
- Choose to do good. (Yes, this is put in last because it’s the hardest.)
These are what I know but believe me, I need a longer list. I want to know what works for you, too, and hopefully, we can help each other in difficult times.
Being nice in our world takes some work. Maybe, just maybe, it gets easier when we share the load.