“You’re very nice…” Ed said to me during his coaching consultation, unsure, unbelieving, almost accusing.
I smiled, confused, as I thought to myself, is that a bad thing?
According to him, yes. He wasn’t sure that being nice was an effective way to operate. He was hesitating and questioning his decision to hire me as a coach. It wasn’t the first time someone had ‘accused’ me of being nice. I’m never sure how to respond in these situations.
It seems obvious to me that one of the main reasons we’re alive is to learn how to be nice to others. To treat others with kindness, consideration and, ultimately, to love one another, as completely and unfailingly as possible. It’s sad to me that adults, especially those forty and over, wouldn’t know that.
It’s been my personal aspiration and spiritual discipline for the most part of the last twenty-some years to be loving toward others, in a genuine and consistent way, as much as I can humanly manage. Which is a lot less than I thought I’d be able to.
The Importance of Not Being Too Nice
On occasion, I didn’t know if I even had it in me to continue to be nice and loving toward others, especially when others weren’t being nice to me and it hurt. I wondered, what’s the point?
Then I saw that I was being too nice. We degrade ourselves when we’re too nice and aren’t standing up for or considering our boundaries, needs and wants. When we put others before ourselves and are too nice and kind, it has its drawbacks.
We can’t have healthy relationships and interactions with others if we place their needs and wants ahead of our own. There needs to be a balance in our expression of love and kindness. Being considerate of yourself is just as important as being considerate of others. When you’re too nice, you risk others taking you for granted or, even worse, taking advantage of you and treating you in a disrespectful or abusive way. I’d often get calls or messages from people who wanted to talk about their problems. They wouldn’t take the advice I gave them or try to address their issues, they just wanted to feel better in the moment by offloading onto me. They’d have the same gripes and struggles over and over. It was exhausting and stressful to be on the other side of this. As soon as they were feeling comforted after talking to me or spending time with me, they’d disappear and make little or no effort to reciprocate. They weren’t there for me when I needed someone to talk to. They didn’t support me in my life or care to listen and hear about my experiences and feelings, though they desperately sought my listening ear and validation of theirs. Being loving to myself means I no longer entertain these calls and messages. I invest my presence, time and efforts in my life and friendships that are reciprocal, where there’s a healthy give and take, where I feel valued and seen as a whole person, not just a shoulder to cry on or a dumping ground. I no longer feel obliged and responsible to make others feel better or guilty about not attending to their needs when it’s at the expense of my own time and energy. I’m not saying that I don’t lend a listening ear to friends who’re in need, but this is not the better part of our relationship. Our time together is spent in warm conversations about our lives or enjoying movies, meals, walks along the beach or on forest trails. We share our problems with each other and are sympathetic and supportive. They’re interested in my views and perspective and I’m interested in theirs. They make an effort to see me and to spend time with me when life is great as well as when life is rocky. They appreciate and reciprocate because they value others and the time they share with them.
It wasn’t easy to step away from the selfish and draining people in my life. It took a lot of effort to be firm and put down boundaries and to stop allowing them into my life and agreeing to spend time with them or indulge them. But it was an act of love and kindness for myself, derived from a firm commitment to self-care and self-protection.
When Loving is Fierce
When you love yourself, sometimes you need to be fierce and protect yourself from others. You may be sharp in your words and strong in your actions. Stand up for yourself and say what needs to be said, walk away and don’t look back, because it just feels like the right thing to do in order to honour yourself and to be a sentry of your boundaries. Love speaks up about injustice. It may even call on you to speak for those who’re more vulnerable than you. Someone had to call for the end of slavery and exploitation of others before legislation started to change and slaves were freed. To those who were opposed to this, it was a controversial and provocative stance, but to millions of slaves, it was their deliverance and emancipation. Many Suffragettes had to demonstrate, protest and speak out before women were given voting rights in elections. Other brave souls continue to this very day to speak out against injustices, some at great cost to their own personal freedom and safety. I have great admiration for them. Love calls out untruths and challenges us to show up with integrity. It doesn’t suffer fools gladly. It pushes as much as it yields until we find that right balance of its dynamic full expression. The greatest potential of love combines a depth of kindness with deliberate and committed engaged action.
It’s surprising to me that others would equate being nice, kind and loving with weakness or ineffectiveness. To me, it’s easy to think of only yourself and your own wants and needs, to judge, criticise and gossip about others. Many people are selfish and only consider themselves. Deflecting their pain and disquiet onto others, criticising and putting them down. Trying to get ahead of everyone else. Blaming them for making them unhappy. They take from others and life as much and as often as possible, without thought of what they can give back and contribute. They seek recognition or validation when they don’t feel at ease with who they are. Even when they get the validation or acknowledgement from others and attain significant things like wealth, power or prestige, if it’s at the expense of others or their integrity, it is hollow.
Being nice to others, being kind and loving engenders trust and goodwill within yourself and from others. If you start from a place of showing kindness toward others, others will, in turn, feel more inclined to be nice and loving toward you. Maybe not always, and maybe not always those who you’re nice to, but at some point, it won’t even matter as much, because being loving just feels good. It feels good because that’s an expression of the deepest nature of our innate being and truth of who we are and where we come from. We are love. The practice and discipline of being loving helps to remind us until we can abide in it from our very core. It’s an act of faith and affirmation for goodness when you’re nice and kind to others.
Conversely, not considering or being loving toward others, being selfish and self-centred, just doesn’t feel good. It eats you up from the inside in the long term. It makes it hard for you to be at peace with and within yourself because deep down you know that you’re out of sync with who you are.
You’ll find it difficult to just be in those quiet moments and need constant stimulation or act out in compulsive and addictive ways because you don’t feel at ease in yourself. You’ll seek constant distraction because there’s a disconnection and dissonance from within and an inability to express yourself in a genuine and gracious way.
Yes, I’m nice, and it’s a discipline for me, a practice. But it’s also a way of life. It feels like the most natural thing in the world to be loving and considerate of others, although at times it’s also the most difficult.
Ed did end up hiring me in the end. He knew he’d had enough in his job and that it wasn’t satisfying him any longer. He needed a new challenge and we worked together to figure out what that would look like for him and what steps he needed to take to make it into a reality. Then he took those steps. Over the course of a year and several coaching sessions, he was to make the decision to leave his high-powered position in a top legal firm in Singapore to set up his own business back home in Europe. Being nice doesn’t make me any less effective as a coach and in my life. In fact, it’s an essential thread in the fabric of a life and work that holds great meaning for me. As Ed came to realise, it’s not only possible to create great change and a life of deeper meaning and purpose while being nice, kind and loving, but it’s the very essence and heart of it.