“Love and compassion are necessities, not luxuries. Without them humanity cannot survive.” ~ Dalai Lama
There seems to be an unwritten rule in our culture that if you are too ”nice”, you must also be a pushover, weak, frail, or even pathetic. Somehow, having compassion for others is not always a favorable trait to have.
Why? What is so wrong with being “nice”?
The opposite of nice is mean, and people who tend to be mean are not exactly seen as favorable either. So why are people who are seemingly at the other end of this spectrum also seen as undesirable? What’s up with ”nice” bad rep? And is there room for a balance between being nice and also being firm? Our culture can be so polarizing – you either are or you aren’t. It’s either black or white, good or bad, right or wrong. Either you are nice or you are mean. What about a version of nice that also includes strength and accountability?
I firmly believe in the power of nice. Compassion. Empathy. Caring. Happiness. These are all synonyms for what I believe nice to mean. They are also incredibly positive words, so how they are possibly viewed as negative traits is confusing and disheartening to me. People call me happy. I take it as a compliment. Sometimes it’s clear that the person did not intent it to be a compliment. People have told me I smile too much. Really? Now that’s just sad.
It’s also a reality. There is a part of our society that embraces being hard, firm, rigid. Tough love. Newsflash – that’s an oxymoron. As if expressing love in its purest form is somehow wrong. This just does not feel right to me. While I do believe in the balance I discussed above, it’s difficult for me to grasp how two extreme concepts such as “tough” and “love” can coexist together. Love can include boundaries and limits, to be sure, yet I’m not sure I agree that it can also be “tough.”
So maybe I need to readjust my own definition of balance. Maybe I believe in a version of love and compassion that is closer to “nice” on the spectrum. I am a Progressive Liberal, after all.
When I decided to go to Social Work School, I remember thinking that I would be surrounded by some of the nicest, most giving and compassionate people on earth. Why not? Isn’t it inherent for professionals who are responsible for the well-being of others to be nice as well? Apparently I was incredibly naïve. Even in my so-called oasis of compassionate professionals, I met some of the most cynical, disgruntled, and downright nasty people I have ever met. Shook my belief system something fierce. Part of me was so incredibly disappointed. “But wait,” my oh-so-green self whined, “Social Work is all about helping and healing and caring …. isn’t it? ISN’T IT? Did I enroll in the wrong school? Where are all the nice people? Where?!”
I was incredibly surprised by this. It showed me just how pervasive this notion of “it’s not good to be nice” is within all areas of our culture and life. So many of our cultural icons based their entire existence on the concept of “being nice.” Martin Luther King, Jr, based his entire activism on nonviolent civil disobedience. My favorite quote from him is all about his vision of love: “Darkness cannot drive out darkness; only light can do that. Hate cannot drive out hate; only love can do that.” While he certainly was firm and determined in his quest for equal rights, he was also compassionate in his delivery. He taught us to help our neighbors. To come together in love and hope, not be divided in hate and injustice.
Yet, for a variety of reasons, helping our neighbors is a taboo for many members of our society. Providing unconditional and genuine support to those less fortunate is frowned upon. Politically, you are seen as a Socialist, or *horror* Communist. I firmly believe these terms are thrown around by people who don’t have a clear idea of what they mean. But let’s save that for a separate post.
I will never stop being nice. Call me weak, make fun of me … it’s okay. It won’t be the first time and certainly not the last. I’m okay being labeled ”too nice.” I would rather be looked at curiously for smiling too much, than to not smile at all. I feel energized by positive energy, even if others feel uncomfortable. So I will continue to smile and be happy. No matter what. Because I genuinely embrace being nice.
“I have just three things to teach: simplicity, patience, compassion. These three are your greatest treasures.” ~ Lao Tzu