THE POLITICS OF BEING NICE
This is written for all women who have ever wanted to be described as NICE.
“Sugar and Spice makes everything nice.” If one was to look at the statement closely, it reads like a paradox. Sugar and Spice do not technically go together to make everything taste better. In fact sugar and spice cause symptoms of heartburn. Don’t worry, I am not writing a blog post on acid reflux – BUT I am writing about the personification of sugar. More specifically somebody that is sweet or dare I say nice.
Unlike food, as far as dispositions are concernedI would argue that sugar and spice do make everything better, because it is necessary. The spice – the attributes of honesty and setting boundaries balances our manifestations of nice. Unfortunately, I have seen that women have the hardest time with the spice attributes.
Have you noticed how mothers talk to young boys vs young girls, even as toddlers? When they stop a girl from smacking their younger sibling with a ping pong racket or snatching a toy we hear,
“Sara, play nice”, When they stop a boy we hear “Adam! NO!”
Why is that? I would argue that as women we have been conditioned to have a nice demeanor while men are raised to see nice as a weakness. I want to examine the dynamics of nice here so we can really see the unnecessary power it holds for many women and how many times it is misunderstood. And hopefully, I can encourage you to replace your love for the word nice with better alternatives.
Let’s first flesh out the word nice itself.
Nice is defined as – pleasant; agreeable; satisfactory. The word is an adjective.
Technically, if one is nice – One is always pleasing, one always agrees and one is always satisfying the other.
Is that really what women should strive to be? If we were to follow this description, we would never have any meaningful conversations, or honest exchangeof ideas that challenges our perspectives and analyzes our own flaws. In a nutshell if practiced, this definition can really halt us from growing.
NICE – A Tool for people pleasing and an obstacle in setting boundaries
According to this definition nice becomes a tool to enable you to be satisfactory to the other. What is this a symptom of? Yes, the dreadful disease that takes over every woman starting as early as childhood – people pleasing. We all know too well what happens when women fall under the pressures of this. Women by nature want to always keep the peace. I am a big proponent of maintaining peace but not at the cost of our honesty and authenticity.
How many times have you made a decision in your life or maintained a relationship in order to satisfy what other people expect from you? Again and again, I have seen women not only base their friendships on other peoples’ expectations but also make decisions that harm them just so they can be considered nice.
Now one may see it is not such a big deal to behave this way. But I would argue it is indeed a small deal, but a small deal that grows into a personal habit. They habit of being nice ( agreeable, satisfactory) at the cost of your own emotional health. It starts out with one’s need to be nice in your personal relationships to in turn, be nice in every scenario, making it hard to set boundaries.
To give you an example how this habit can reach beyond your emotional health, I wanted to share something that alarmed me. I heard a radio interview of a police chief speaking about sexual assault recently. Do you know the number one reason why women were in danger? They would invite the intruder in. Either by physical entry or by conversation because they were afraid they would not come across as nice.
Now, I know this is a more dramatic scenario but this goes hand in hand with women not being able to set boundaries to protect their emotional health and physical health by constantly trying to be described as NICE and falling deeper into the practice of people pleasing.
POLITE – It is different from being nice.
I believe that you can still keep the peace, maintain respect for another without having to become insincere.
As I have started coming into my phase as an adult woman, I have more and more appreciated the manners and rules of etiquette. Words and phrases that I found unnecessary and bothersome in my ear from my mother I have come to have great respect for. You see, being polite actually gives you the tools to set your boundaries with grace. It is completely different from being nice. It allows you to speak your mind with very precise accurate words without speaking in half truths. Let me give you an example of statements of a NICE person
“No, I really didn’t mean that- I am so sorry.”
“Oh I don’t really care about that, don’ t be silly.”
“Sure, no you are fine.”
“Really? I don’t remember saying that. Don’t worry about it”
Now, here are polite statements
“Thank you, I am full.”
“No Thank you, Its not something I am interested in.
“Let me finish what I am saying please.”
Do you see the difference? The practice of being nice is about satisfying the other, while being polite is about speaking your mind.
EVERYBODY’S FRIEND IS NOBODY’S FRIEND
My mother used to say this to me and I never understood it till I became an adult. Now I understand what it meant. Someone who is always trying to be nice to everyone will always be in a position where they will be in a insincere conversation. It is impossible to be nice to everyone at an equal degree because people, agendas and loyalties differ.
Without judgment, I would say that many people like to fall in this category not realizing that it can really harm their credibility for trust. And they put themselves in compromising situations and conversations that may be considered backbiting. Now does that not mean I am advocating that you should not be friendly with everyone, but I think the best is for one to strive to be polite and thus have varying levels of friendship. This gives you the freedom to step away from conversations that you do not want to participate in and still maintain a relationship that is sincere while giving others the opportunity to be the best of themselves. If you do not arm yourself with these boundaries you will step into acting out a less graceful version of yourself. And yes, we have all been there.
I heard a very interesting description of nice recently.
“Nice is a decision one makes on how to handle a situation, it is not an attribute. Many people can manipulate you by showing you that they are nice.”
I agree with that. We should admire qualities of politeness and respect others even when they are not satisfying us or agreeing with us.
In addition, I would encourage you to want to be described as something other than nice. As a generation of women that are multitasking, taking charge of our affairs and raising families we should throw out this literally powerless word when it comes to describing a person and replace it with words that actually mean something.
I would suggest “Fair, trustworthy, honest, patient, and yes polite.”
I would teach my children, especially girls that being described as fair and trustworthy puts you in category of being useful to others. People will approach you for help and you can assist them because they confide in your honesty. All relationships should be based on respect and honesty not on a superficial exchange of two people not wanting to offend the other.
So next time your daughter or niece is about to whack another kid, tell her “Sara! NO! Play gentle please.”