Niceness is like an infectious disease. People see other people being nice and they think ‘I’m not half as nice as that’ and it makes them feel like they must be a right w*nker. But before you know it, they’ve succumb to the shame and start being nice as well. And so the cycle continues.
Okay so it’s not really niceness per se that’s the problem, it’s phoney niceness. And it’s the person’s intention that matter. For example, say you’re going to someone’s house and take a gift. This could be a perfectly kind thing to do, or it could be that you need to show people that this is the kind of person you are i.e. your mind is beleaguered by a nagging voice telling you to always demonstrate niceness. And failure to maintain this proper etiquette is some kind of failure to play the social game; failure to fit in.
Here are some other manifestations of phoney niceness:
Inability to criticise others
People can have an almost superstitious fear of criticising others. Historically, this must have something to do with fearing God’s wrath but we should really let go. Being able to be honest about how the behaviours of others make us feel (both loved ones and strangers) is essential to our personal wellbeing. Perhaps people fear that they will unleash a fury that cannot be quelled. Yet it is quite the reverse; it is the only way to begin to process and rationalise; to have a dialogue with ourselves (or with a willing Other) and start to move on.
Feigned self-deprecation or apology
This can be tiring to listen to. Someone might say one thing and then take it back, apologise for it or say that their opinion doesn’t matter anyway. If you’ve genuinely changed your mind, fine. But this behaviour can be a sort of sad pantomime, seesawing from one stance to another because to be too direct is thought distasteful.
It’s good and decent to put the needs of others before your own. But real altruism comes when we have attended to our own needs first before seeing to the needs of others – and then you have so much to give and you can enjoy giving. A major downside of phoney niceness is that the actor finds themselves doing things they don’t really want to do but not admitting it. Of course, sometimes we all have to do things we don’t want to do but we should be honest to ourselves about that – it’s just healthy. Interestingly, a person who’s concerned about demonstrating niceness can have this build-up of repressed emotion inside of them. Sometimes the pressure rises and something really damn mean pops out of their mouths uncontrollably. Repression has a funny way of catching us out like that – who are we trying to kid anyway?
I’m not trying to say that people trapped in the niceness cycle are bad people. They have some culpability in a way because they reinforce the pattern but they are victims, even if they don’t realise. Life would be so much better for them if they could be free to be honest.
Niceness has the surface-level appearance of goodness. But goodness is often far more veiled; it can be subtle and internal, not always observable. The point is, something can’t be good if it’s not honest and we should not be ashamed of our honest thoughts and feelings. They may seem unpalatable but harbouring and concealing them, will only do us more harm. We must shamelessly position ourselves at the centre of our world and value honesty above all else because it is our savour and has the power to set us free.