My name is Nancy, and I'm a recovering Nice Person.
As a Nice Person, I rarely said "no," especially to things I really, really, really didn't want to do. Because I couldn't stand the possibility of someone thinking badly of me, I bought vacuum cleaners and encyclopedias I didn't need. I agreed to activities I had no business doing—heading up a committee, teaching a class, organizing a rummage sale. And I was the first to be asked to bake 47 dozen cookies by tomorrow or chaperone 150 middle-school girls—because I was too nice to say "no"!
I never voiced a disagreement, never complained about bad service, never returned damaged merchandise. I carefully bottled up my negative feelings until I exploded like Mount Vesuvius, destroying innocent people in my wake. But since that's not very nice, I tried not to blow up too often.
Even though I did my best never to do or say anything that wasn't nice, a few years ago I inadvertently offended a friend. She became angry and let me know it. And being a Nice Person, not only did I allow her to yell at me, but I helped her by agreeing with everything she said—and adding a few accusations of my own.
I was sincerely sorry she was angry with me. Even more than that, I was profoundly sorry she no longer thought of me as One of the Nicest People You'd Ever Want to Meet. So I sent this woman gifts and wrote her letters of apology. I praised her to others and shared with mutual friends how terrible I felt for offending her.
But the truth was, she and I weren't particularly close. My reconciliation campaign was less about restoring our friendship than about restoring my image. I wanted to be "nice" again not only in her mind, but in everyone else's.
Suddenly I realized how narcissistic and dishonest my niceness was.
Oprah Winfrey's called niceness "the disease to please." It's actually a way of manipulating people: If I'm nice, then how can you not like me? And if you don't like me, then something's wrong with you.
Another recovering Nice Person I know, Sandra, revealed that when someone told her, "You know, Sandra, not everyone's going to like you," her face burned with embarrassment as she thought, How can that be? Isn't making everyone like me the whole point?
That thought was once mine, too. Everybody must like me. Nobody must ever be angry with me. I must maintain a façade of niceness at all times. Grit my teeth, smile, smile, smile, and deny—or at least hide—my true feelings. That's the nice thing to do.
However, this superficial, neurotic need to have everyone like me was awfully tiring. Plus, niceness isn't a godly attribute. Niceness for the wrong reasons is phony, fake, plastic, pretentious. On the outside, it looks others-centered, but on the inside, it's wholly self-centered. At its core, my niceness was all about me.
So I decided I didn't want to be nice anymore—although I do want to be kind, since kindness is the fruit of a life that draws its approval and acceptance from God and is expressed in acts of mercy. I don't want to fret over what people think about me. I'm finally OK with the fact not everyone's going to like me.
Besides, Jesus likes me. He accepts me. I have his approval, and, really, who else's do I need?
Are you a Nice Person? Are you so nice you've stopped being true to yourself? How do you break free from the "niceness" trap?
Written by Nancy Kennedy
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