Wednesday, July 13, 2011

Being Nice? It May Cost You

Remember when you were a kid, and your parents told you to "be nice?" Maybe you were supposed to "be nice" to your younger brother and let him tag along with you and your friends. Or maybe you needed to "be nice" to the other kids in your class, even though they were jerks who didn't pick you for their kickball team. Whatever the case may have been, the bottom line was: You needed to be nice.

Well, I'm here today to tell you, you don't always have to be nice. It's overrated.

I hear your protests: "What? How can you say that? It's so un-Christian. And it's so...mean." Yes, yes it is. But here is the reality of the world we live in. We can't always be nice.

There is experiential proof of this. Just consider the guy who caught the baseball from Derek Jeter's 3,000 home run hit. He was a nice guy who gave the ball back to Jeter and the Yankees without charging them a million dollars for it in a sale that would have been totally legitimate, because the ball became his property as soon as he grabbed it in the stands. He could have sold that ball on Ebay. But he didn't. He gave it back. And because he was nice, the Yankees gave him some good seats to their games, for which Mr. Nice Guy now owes the IRS taxes for being nice.

There is also scientific proof, called Game Theory. That's the idea, proven with experiments, that you get the most benefit from any system when you are occasionally generous, mixed in with mostly giving other people back what they give to you. In other words, if you're too nice, eventually you get tagged for it.

Now, I'm not saying that you should never be nice. That's silly. But it is a good idea to figure out what it actually means to be nice to begin with.

Believe it or not, that's a contested term. Nice. What does that really mean? Well, you can look it up online and get advice on how to be nice. You'll be told to smile, say hello, ask others how they're doing, listen to them, and offer help when you can. I wouldn't call this being nice. I'd call this being respectful. And I can tell you that I've met many people, Christian and otherwise, who fail mightily on this front.

But we're not here to talk about respect today. We're talking about being nice. And I suspect that the real definition of being nice is to overlook wrong things. That is something we should do...sometimes. But other times, you can't overlook the wrong thing. Sometimes, you have to address it. That's the key. Figure out when to be nice and overlook a wrong thing, and figure out when to be "not nice" and let the other person have it.

Sure, that sounds mean, especially if you're used to being nice. But I'm telling you, it can pay off to address problems, even if people tell you "it's not nice." In fact, there's plenty of evidence that being nasty is to your benefit. The point is that it's possible to be too nice... When you can't say no, when you let people walk all over you, when you apologize for something that isn't your fault, you've passed the boundaries of rational niceness and entered the realm of being a doormat. And that's the time to stand up and push back.

If you don't stand up and push back, you're going to get steamrolled. And that kind of experience definitely is not nice. You won't like it. And you can refuse it. That doesn't make you mean. It makes you sane. And when you make good choices, you can genuinely be nice when the situation truly warrants that behavior from you. You deserve it to be nice only at the right times, and never at the wrong times. And so does everyone else around you. So go ahead, be a little less nice than you usually are. You'll be glad you did.

How do you feel about it? I know this is a controversial opinion. You can disagree if you like. Or maybe you agree. Let me know. Be honest. But don't expect me to be "nice" about it. Heh heh heh.

Copyright (c) 2011 by Michele Chiappetta. All rights reserved.


  1. Great post! I'm all for being respectful but yes, there are times that being too nice gets you feeling resentful. I'm in total agreement with you here. Find a good balance :)

  2. I agree. Being too nice can cost you. Very well written sis!

  3. Very true - I never seem to catch myself being "too nice" until it's too late and someone has walked all over me. Pushy people take advantage of niceness all too often!

  4. Wow, it's "nice" to see all the positive comments. :) Seriously, I think we've all probably been too nice at times and paid the price. It's good to draw boundaries when we need to.

    And thanks, sis, for the compliment on the writing! That means a lot to me.


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