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EEverywhere these days you hear the directive to be nice. It’s part of the new corporate culture. But what does nice mean exactly? And why are we asked to be nice all the time? And is there a difference between being nice, and being, say, being heartfelt and kind?
Apparently, Google has recently discovered that the key to good teamwork is being nice. That have found that they are are getting better and better results from employees by training managment to be nice — that this has been good for the bottom line. And one can understand that, yes, to a certain extent, this is progress, and that being nice is actually good for the bottom line. The nicer the people you have doing your bidding — the better results you get, obviously.
So I’m of Canadian origin, and Canada is legendary for its niceness — people in Canada are outrageously nice. That‘s why everyone loves Canada, of course. People say to me all the time. Why did you move to France, when Canada is such a nice country? Of course in France people are legendarily not nice, especially in the service industry. You get the feeling the sales people are determined you to dissuade you from buying anything. It can’t be good for business, but it is the French way. And to get what you need french administration you regularily have to deal with a person who regards you as less than a cockroach. Anyway, for a Canadian, this can be both traumatising and refreshing. Finally you get to see how people really feel and what they are really like.
Don’t misunderstand me. I’m not saying we should be nasty and arrogant in the style of a French waiter, but there are situations where niceness actually does people a disservice. For instance, many nice people fall into the trap of allowing themselves to be abused: they can be enablers, they marry drunks or abusers, they offer excuses for people who are genuinely awful. They seem to believe that there is no evil the universe. They are therefore naive, and easy bait for sociopaths.
Coming from a legendarily ‘non-judgmental’ nice culture where we are so proud of being accepting and tolerant, I know what I am talking about. A smart person once criticized me: ‘You are trying to make everything ok! A very bad habit and hard to get rid of’. Being nice all the time is a very bad habit. Niceness creates this kind of slippery, oily persona. You can get what you want by being nice of course — and that’s why we do the ‘nice’ dance — but if you are only nice all the time you never take a risk in relationships — you can’t really develop deep friendships.
If we are only nice and agreeable all the time, a partner might leave us, because if there is no juice or friction the relationship dies. A woman might say ‘he’s a nice guy, but there’s something missing. I’d like to be his friend, but I wouldn’t trust him to to fight off the wolves at the door or provide for our child.’ There may be a biological dead end to being overly nice. We need to find a partner who has some ‘real teeth’ to quote Jordan B Peterson.
Real kindness comes from the heart, but is not something sentimental or overly mental. Niceness is different than being decent, kind, or respectful to people. If you are nice all the time, you don’t really respect people: you just remain on a superficial level with them. Nice is so often weak. Nice is the ‘mask of compassion’, in Peterson’s words again. Actually nice people turn out to be wildly vicious to those who don’t belong to their ideological tribe.
We all know people who think they are nice. When you question their routine, their trip, their narrative, they become quite vicious. They suprise us with an underhanded attack, perhaps an inadvertant spasm of malevolence from behind the facade of a smile. I know, as a Canadian, I am guilty of that at times. I’m quite surprised when I find myself acting not nice, that I have a darker nature — It provokes a kind of puritan shame in me.
Being nice does allow us, to a certain extent, to get along with people, to avoid conflict, which is desirable — as conflict is painful. But people respect integrity, not niceness, and integrity is a better way. People are suspicious of you if you are too nice to them, for good reason. The American Indians knew that if white settlers were too friendly it meant they wanted to steal their land. To be too nice and friendly all the time is to be the perpetual salesperson. It’s exhausting.
I may be wrong, but I’d guess that the top brass at google aren’t really that nice at all, they are probably just ‘well oiled beasts’, capably of being nice or not so nice depending what works for them. Of course its convenient for them to have a nice staff, because nice people are easy to manipulate. However, I wish they had a principal of ‘decency’ or ‘kindness’ instead of niceness, which implies a crippling consensus.
The point is, there should be some creative friction in relationship. There should be adversaries. This is so taboo in our consensual, social media culture. It’s understandable, certainly. I get it. I’m Canadian. I want to be nice to everybody all the time.
But actually, we are fighting creatures — we can’t always be agreeable. And there is a ‘flowery war’ in love, as the Taoists say. And that’s great. We should fight with each other respectfully, within certain parameters. But being overly nice makes people frustrated, bitter, passive aggressive, and angry.
There is something about this culture which disempowers people so profoundly, which alienates them from their deeper natures. To a certain extent we can’t really help that, the culture is a tyrant, as well as a protector. But brave people will have to unburden themselves of the façade of niceness, in order to develop real character and relationships.
Don’t misunderstand me. I’m not promoting meanness. Gestures of kindness should be made everyday and all the time. But nice is gross, whereas kind is authentic.
Ok, in a nutshell: You don’t have to be so fucking nice all the time.
This is the confession of a nice Canadian. There is a whole continent of ice under nice.