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It’s Not Very Nice To Be Nice

Have you and a friend ever had the following conversation about what to eat for dinner?

Me: Where do you want to eat?
Friend: I dunno. Where do you want to eat?
Me: Anywhere is good. What’s your preference?
Friend: Oh, anything is good.
Me: Uh, how about Persian?
Friend: Nah, I had that yesterday.
Me: How about Italian?
Friend: Italian gives me indigestion.
Me: Hmm, how about Thai?

The above happens when people try to be nice to each other. Just don’t!

In the past, I wanted to be a nice person and tried to be and do things that I thought a nice person would be and do. And that ended up not being a very nice thing to do. I thought that being nice meant to be accommodating and to be willing to do things for others, sometimes at the expense of inconveniencing myself. In the end, I was being dishonest and not so nice to others and myself.

Almost a decade ago, on a trip to Central America, I was being so nice and accommodating that I ended up pissing off my travel companion. She told me to just stop it and tell her the truth. Evidently, I expressed no strong opinions or preferences and she couldn’t engage me as a real person because effectively I had no personality. After a while, it was more than she could bear.

She gave me pause (for which I will be ever thankful) and I took a hard look at my behavior and myself. She was right. In trying to be nice to others, I ended up being dishonest to myself. I didn’t respect my own wants, desires, and needs enough to express and assert them. I wasn’t being true to myself, and that was not being very nice to my friends and family.

Let me clarify for those who might be suffering from the “nice” virus. Being honest and assertive does not mean being confrontational and combative. It just means to express your preferences to others. Share your likes and dislikes. When you say, “I don’t care”, it should really be because you don’t care. Don’t be “nice”, only to resent the outcome. If you feel strongly about something, then take a stand on it. You may not get it, but others will know where you are coming from. They will know you and that is the nicest gift that you can give them.

Being accommodating can transfer the burden of decision making to friends and family. Because I did not express my likes and dislikes in a misguided attempt to put their needs before mine, I made them responsible for the decision and the outcome. They may feel uneasy because they are unsure that what they choose is something I would like. Even though I professed to not care, they know that it is unrealistic to not care all the time. Can you see how unfair and unnecessary this burden is?

Here’s how I would handle the dinner conversation nowadays:

Me: Where do you want to eat?
Friend: I dunno. Where do you want to eat?
Me: I am in the mood for Persian.
Friend: Nah, I had that yesterday.
Me: Ok, tell me what food you don’t want to eat tonight. No Mexican or Chinese for me.

Please don’t go to the opposite extreme and become a scrooge. If the outcome is not important to you and you feel like being accommodating, then be accommodating. If you care about the outcome, then ask for it. If you don’t get it, then shoot for compromise instead of accommodation. Compromise is when both teams have some skin in the game, while accommodation is when one team never bothered to play. If I care about the other team (friends and family) playing instead of me winning, the latter would irritate me a lot.

Once I stopped trying to be nice, it felt like a huge burden had lifted. It was very hard work being nice and accommodating all the time. I had more free time for myself because I wasn’t busy doing things for others. Now I relaxingly say what I want and am okay if I need to compromise. And once in a while, when I feel like it, I am very accommodating.

Case in point, here is a conversation that would have gone in a different direction if I had still been trying to be nice:

Friend: Could you give me a lift to the airport?
Me: Sure. It’s only a 15 minutes drive.
Friend: Oh, it’s not that airport; it’s the other one.
Me: You mean the one that is like an hour away?
Friend: Yes. I wanted to save money so got a flight from there.
(In my head: Ugh, so you want to save money, but are okay with me wasting my time and gas money? I don’t think so. Homey don’t play that.)
Me: Sorry, I don’t have the time. Have you considered taking the airport shuttle?

She ended up getting a ride from another friend, a very nice guy whom we both know.

Be a good friend and family member. Express your wants and needs clearly. Respect their needs and wants in return. Don’t be nice, definitely don’t be real nice, just be real.

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