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Jul 08

Niceness Is Toxic

The Dalai Lama

“Kindness is my religion,” the current Dalai Lama Tenzin Gyatso has famously said. A person could do worse. Photo credit: abhikrama via photopin cc 

I have a theory. This will likely come as no surprise to those who know me, as the more accurate statement is “I have theories.” Being keenly aware of my human fallibility, I don’t pretend to know things that I don’t. Instead, I theorize. … But I digress. Like you do. Fine, like I do.

My theory, which will not come as a surprise to some of my friends who have had to listen to me prattle on about it already, has to do with niceness vs. kindness.

We are raised—especially women, natch—to be nice. Always nice, above all else. Some internalize this societal suggestion more than others; I, for instance, swallowed it whole for breakfast, lunch, and dinner, and then I bathed in it for good measure. I was really, really nice. Sounds lovely, except it’s not. It’s toxic. Niceness is toxic.

It’s easy (notice I did not say painless) to be nice. Takes very little thought at all. All you really have to do is what the other person wants, whatever that may be. On the outside, you’re calm, unruffled, and sweet as syrup. Oh, but the inside is a different story. The inside is human, all generous impulses warring with a little voice that cries “But what about ME??” But when you’re nice, those feelings cause shame. As if it’s some kind of awful thing to matter to yourself, to sometimes put yourself first, to be (gasp) selfish.

What. Utter. Bullshit.

Because the truth will out. It will. If you ever find yourself being passive-aggressive (that was my specialty) or actively not taking care of yourself (did that too) or stuffing it until you explode (not me, but I know people like this), maybe that’s a good time to look within and see what is happening. In my case—in many cases, I think—it was the poison seeping out. It infects your relationship with not only yourself but others. It’s crippling and enabling. Perennial niceness is just not a sustainable state. It is incompatible with a happy life. At least, it was for me.

But what am I do to, then? you ask. How am I to be? I cannot just go around being RUDE and OBNOXIOUS.

Well, sure, you can … but I understand. That’s not how I want to see myself either.

So I’m aiming for kindness. Kindness, I think, is the grown-up version of niceness. Where niceness is easy, kindness requires careful thought. Where niceness is always doing what the other person wants, kindness is doing what’s going to be best in the end. Where niceness is (supposedly, but not really) all about the other, kindness implies a distinctive primary element of self-care.

Kindness is the equivalent of putting the oxygen mask on yourself before you help those around you. For me, and I think for most of us, it’s the healthiest, sanest way to be. Sometimes, though, kindness is difficult. It can mean doing things you thought you would never do. It can mean making another person sad for a time. It can mean goodbyes. It can make things tough for a while.

But when I do something that is truly kind, even if it is not easy, I feel a small, satisfying click, as of a key sliding home into a lock. That’s how I know it is the right thing. That’s how I know it will come out best in the end. That’s how I know I am being true to myself and those around me as best as I can.

Niceness is toxic. Kindness is wonderful. Kindness is beautiful. Kindness is everything.

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