Since childhood days we have been taught to be nice. Say politely good night to the guests who came for dinner. In India we touch the feet of our elders even if they are distant relatives and we feel no connection to them whatsoever.
What were meant to be lessons on being civil turned out to be chains preventing the emergence of our authenticity. In the process we weren’t encouraged to express how we truly felt about something but ended up being programmed to act in a nice way according to what was expected of us.
Now as grownups, when a boss comes up with a deadline that is unfair, or we know we cannot meet, we accept it saying “I will do my best.” We are so anxious to please the boss that we say nothing about the things that might prevent us from meeting the deadline, and so we reinforce the boss’ unrealistic expectations and create problems for us down the road.
Now when a friend wants us to do something we don’t feel like doing, we go along half-spirited. When a near and dear one says “I love you” we say “I love you too” almost mechanically. As children, being nice was a fun game and we were often rewarded with a treat. But now, being nice has become a stiff suit that deadens our response to others. We’ve swapped our joy for a cheese smile.
We justify all this by saying “but you have to be nice.” “One can’t be brutally honest as it will hurt others”. “What’s the harm in being nice?” Or worst yet, “One has to be diplomatic in this world – what’s the problem with that?”
The problem with not being authentic is that it becomes difficult for others to know what’s really going on; and worse, we may even delude ourselves that things are OK, when in fact we are having major issues at work or with our friends. Whatever the motivation, every time we put on a show of being nice, we are giving others an inaccurate picture of ourselves. What starts out as a benign way of smoothing things over can with time result in a distorted view of our situation.
We know this, but we often compel ourselves to be nice because the alternative would be to act rudely. However, that’s usually because we’ve held back so long, we have piled up so much resentment, that we might just say something nasty. Or we simply don’t want to risk the displeasure of others. But there are many ways of being genuine without being rude.
Acting genuinely means not acting to please others but acting in a way that is appropriate to a situation. Sometimes we have to be nice. Sometimes we have to be firm. Sometimes a display of anger is warranted. In any case, if we are so busy being nice that we lose touch with our authentic feelings, our behaviour will rarely be appropriate. We can’t please everyone, but if we act appropriately we will eventually please those who are important to us. As children we could please our parents by being nice. But we are adults now. If we continue to believe that being nice is always appropriate we will find that in the end we please no one.