The Trouble with Being Nice

Image by Lukasz Wierzbowski

Everyone thinks they’re a “nice” person. Well, nearly everyone. I’ve met a few folks who knew they were rampant arseholes and were really quite at peace with that aspect of themselves. I don’t know if that makes it any better, but it’s always nice when someone isn’t deluding themselves.

But what is “nice”? Nice is such an English word. It’s a quaint little put-down, it’s a sincere compliment, it can be sleazy, it can be vanilla and it can be code for just about anything. But at the heart of being a “nice” person is this notion that the buttermilk of human kindness runs through your core, your morals are square with the universe and you add an extra dollop of care whenever dealing with small children, non-killing animals and non-disgusting old people.

I love being “nice” and it always makes me feel great to do “nice” things: serving extra ice cream to children, rescuing puppies and bidding a rousing “Good morning!” to old people who sit in their gardens and could easily be mistaken for gnomes.

But you just can’t be nice all the time. It’s impractical. And just because you may be brimming with innocent gnomish love, that doesn’t mean the gnome on the other side of the fence isn’t a rapist, a Nazi war criminal or just a guy who jerks off over your Instagram account (people do!).

I get walked over a lot. Family members, boyfriends, even just people sharing the footpath with me will always get my preferential treatment; it’s just the way I am. Take my present romantic situation. I wanted to break up with my boyfriend for a while. Honestly, we’re talking months. But I just couldn’t do it, because I didn’t want to offend him. So instead, I held on, arguing and crying and making the greatest lasagna of his life (fact), just in order to avoid a conversation that might hurt his feelings.

Now, I know what you’re thinking. The “nice” thing to do would have been to break up with the guy, instead of causing him irreversible emotional trauma. And, look, you’ve got a point. But when you’re nice the way I am, it’s hard to see things that way. I knew he didn’t want to break up. And, despite the fact I wanted to scream and fire a gun into the air every time I heard him audibly breathe, I just couldn’t conceive of breaking the guy’s heart.

In the end, he broke up with me. Because (and how’s this for irony) he felt like he was doing the wrong thing by me by trying to keep me. He knew I wanted out for as long as I wanted out. (I guess I shouldn’t have left those diaries written in my own blood on the kitchen counter. Oh, well, live and learn.) But here’s the thing: we were both trying to be “nice” by each other. And isn’t that the darndest thing?

By putting yourself last, oftentimes you end up doing yourself a worse injury than you would have had you been a little less “nice”. Example: I run along a river, a trail I share with cyclists and Catherine Deveny (I know, right!?). So one day, I was running along and I swerved to give a cyclist extra room, which was totally unnecessary, I was just being “nice”. So what happened? My arm connected with a giant rusty blade and tore open my flesh, gushing blood everywhere.

I could have died or at the very least got tetanus. Fortunately, however, the cut was only about a centimetre long and only really scratched the skin’s surface, but I couldn’t tell that through all my tears, could I? In the end, it was a local guy, the soccer coach on the field adjacent, who came to my aid and told me I would be “just fine”. That was nice.

Image: Lukasz Wierzbowski

This article first appeared in frankie magazine issue 63 (Jan/Feb 2015).

Frankie Magazine issue 63

You Might Also Like