No More Mr. Nice Guy

I was infuriated. I mean, livid. And I had just woken up.

Nothing like starting your morning with a nice, steaming cup of hostility.

I had awoken that day to a long text message that, for several different reasons, was highly upsetting. I won’t go into the minutiae, but if you want to chat about it over a cold beer sometime I can divulge the glorious details.

In any case, what I was feeling that dreary Friday morning was along the lines of this: “No more Mr. Nice Guy.”

Enough is enough.

I don’t know if you’ve ever had an experience like that, that moment when the gloves come off and the niceties along with them. Some may call it a meltdown. I think it’s a breakthrough.

Recently I’ve wondered if, in general, we spend too much time trying to be nice and not nearly enough time concerned about being good.

Nice is overrated and largely unhelpful. Kindness, on the other hand, is one of the virtues of a good person. It is the tough distinction between nice and kind that often causes us to live behind a comfortable, safe wall of fear instead of having the courage to be completely ourselves, even if we ruffle some feathers. “Nice” and “kind” are often used interchangeably when they really shouldn’t be.

Kindness acts regardless of whether it is seen or unnoticed, rewarded or unrecognized, easy or difficult, reciprocated or forgotten.

“Nice” is ultimately an egocentric matter; a feeble attempt to please others for the sake of our self-esteem, status, or convenience. “Nice” tells us we need to be liked by others by making everything smooth. We have the misheld belief that if we are nice, we will get what we want (be it money, a promotion, friendship . . . even love).

It is not authentic. It isn’t real.

In fact, niceness can be quite unhealthy. It leads to pent-up feelings, resentment, unhealthy guilt and a quiet desperation that may eventually break loose rather aggressively in a REALLY angry text—or worse.

The opposite of being nice, then, isn’t being mean, although it sometimes may be perceived that way. It’s just being yourself.

Below are a few examples of situations you may encounter (at least I know I have) and what a nice response could be versus what a kind response looks like. Any time you find yourself having this kind of dilemma, it is good to practice exercising your kindness muscle (and gently suppress your inner nice guy).

Better than going to the gym, am I right?

Situation Nice Response Kind Response
You are full but want to finish your plate so as to not hurt the cook’s feelings. Eat—whether you enjoy it or not—until you are completely stuffed and slightly nauseous all the while entertaining a light-hearted conversation about different lawnmowers and how to best handle the overbearing homeowners’ association. Graciously thank the cook for putting together the meal and highlight the aspects of the meal you did enjoy while setting down your silverware to indicate you are done. And then change the subject to something—anything—else because YAWN.
You are really looking forward to a quiet evening alone when someone invites you and you feel the notorious FOMO while also guilt of turning down the kind offer. Suck it up, go anyway and dread it all day while attempting to make yourself feel better with the reasoning that you are doing “the right thing.” Thank them for the offer, tell them that you need to rest and—if you want—offer an alternative date or time to catch up.
Someone asks your opinion (whether it’s a TV show, song, item of clothing . . .) and you are afraid to say what you really think because it may not be the answer they are hoping for. Say “I LOVE IT, IT’S MY FAVORITE . . .”
And then proceed to build on your lie, hoping it won’t come back to bite you.
Try to say at least one good thing you see about the song, clothing, food, or show, and ask them what it is they enjoy so much about it. You can also start a lively discussion by challenging their perspective with some of the aspects you struggle with regarding that thing they are so enthusiastic about.

Kindness allows us to be ourselves. It is a genuine act of love towards another. Kindness is other-focused. Kindness acts regardless of whether it is seen or unnoticed, rewarded or unrecognized, easy or difficult, reciprocated or forgotten.

Kindness may look like welcoming the new kid at work even though you have a ton on your plate and don’t really feel like it. Kindness could be calling your grandmother after a long day at work to see how she’s doing. Kindness might be a gentle touch or an encouraging word to someone you know is suffering. Kindness may mean biting your tongue when you are tempted to retort angrily to your spouse. Kindness is a silent prayer for someone else’s intention.

Kindness is not being a doormat, eager to please or self-interested. It is a disposition of love, a small gift of self in our daily actions. As a recovering people-pleaser, I know how hard it is to distinguish nice from kind. To help out, here are a few tips to practice more kindness and less nice-ness.

1. Practice sharing your opinion

What you think and feel is important. Trying to keep your opinions under wraps all the time for the sake of other people’s feelings is exhausting and a disservice to you and others. If you’re having a discussion, argument, or even casual conversation, practice contributing your thoughts on the matter. Maybe they’ll agree, maybe they’ll throw you out the window; regardless, it’s not about making yourself look good. It’s just allowing yourself to step out of the clean, well-lit prison of what others think and be free.

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2. Practice saying no

“Nice” tries with all its might to convince us that we can’t ever say no. As a result, you are tired, resentful and frustrated beyond belief. I am here to tell you that you can do it. Say no. Shout it off the rooftops if you’d like, sing it in a song, say it in every language you can think of, just get it out.

“No” isn’t a rejection—it is a “yes” to something else.

You are allowed and encouraged to say no when someone asks you to do something that makes you feel uncomfortable, you don’t have time for, or isn’t your idea of fun. Maybe you want to stay in instead of going out—say no. Maybe you can’t work late today because you’re exhausted—say no. You can say no graciously, lovingly and with a smile. “No” isn’t a rejection—it is a “yes” to something else. Something that may just be more important, like your health and well-being or peace of mind.

3. Let go

You are not responsible for how other people feel.

*GASP*

I know, crazy. And so liberating. You can share your opinion (gracefully), say no (gently), and allow someone to be upset about it. As long as you are not intentionally hurting someone, being abusive or malicious . . . you’re okay.

Too many people do too many things they shouldn’t or don’t want to in order to avoid offending anyone. This isn’t helped by the fact that it seems like everyone is offended by pretty much anything these days. As a highly sensitive person, I know I am hurt easily. But I also know this isn’t the other person’s fault.

Don’t place the burden of making everyone feel good on your shoulders. You will topple over from its weight and I will unabashedly say “I told you so.” Let other people feel the way they want. Just worry about how you can be kind, not nice.

At any given moment, if you’re not sure if you’re being kind or nice, you can try doing a quick self-evaluation: Why am I doing X? Is it to make myself look good somehow, or because I genuinely want to? Am I worried about what people will say, think, or feel if I don’t do X? Do I have a legitimate responsibility to do X or am I just telling myself that I do? Do I feel more at peace doing X or not doing it?

After I got that text I did respond in a very un-nice way. It wasn’t mean—it just wasn’t nice. Sometimes the gloves do need to come off, but no gloves means you can encounter the person a little better than with those clumsy things on anyway.

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