That’s Not Nice

Sometimes I know exactly what I’m expected to say/do in order to be considered a “nice person.”  But saying/doing those things feels unnatural.

Maybe examples are needed:

It feels unnatural for me to make small talk.

When someone says, “My sister’s husband’s brother is starting a business, and he could really use prayers,” I get super awkward.

At that point, I’m thinking, “I’m supposed to tell her that’s interesting! Tell her you’ll pray for her, Amanda!”

But…

I’m not at all interested.

And I literally have no idea WHAT to pray in that situation.   (I guess, “God bless So-and-so’s sister’s husband’s brother’s business”…  ???)

I know I’m obligated, culturally, to smile and nod at whatever someone says, as long as they are smiling and nodding themselves.  But if they are frowning and saying that something is sad, I should frown and agree with their sadness, too.

Either way, agreement is key!

…even if I happen to disagree with whatever they’re saying…

It’s frustrating!

Because I end up arguing with myself between what I’m expected to say and what I’d rather say.   And, even as I’m writing now, I’m not sure where to land.

As much as I believe that feelings shouldn’t be trusted and humans should discipline themselves to do what doesn’t come naturally– I still FEEL icky and fake when I obediently do what society expects me to do.  I still FEEL like a sell-out when I pout empathetically and lament, “I’m so sorry you have been tired lately!” instead of  pointing out, “I’ve got four kids and one of them is teething, but some of us choose not to dwell on it.”

Should I practice being “nicer” regardless of whether or not I want to do it?

Should I say/do what is socially expected of me, as an act of service and self-sacrifice?

Or did God make me the way I am–sort of awkward–because He has a job for me that doesn’t require a magnetic personality and lots of fans?

Maybe I should just keep being weird (which some consider “not nice”)  because my equally weird friends love me this way.

I go back and forth all the time.


 

I’ve read the book How to Win Friends and Influence People.

It tells me that I can earn goodwill by offering a listening ear and generally making others feel good about themselves. Dale Carnegie recommends that I make every person I meet believe he/she is the most important person in the room.

Yet, I struggle.

For two reasons:

#1. Attempting to change minds this way feels slimey. It seems like a trick. What makes me better than a propoganda-touting politician, who kisses butts and wins elections on charm alone?  What makes me better than a salesman, who is willing to say whatever it takes to make you comfortable so he can get what he wants from you?    I don’t want to sell myself in exchange for popularity, because I don’t like the types of people who seem to have done so already.

#2.  I don’t really want to be friends with people who talk about themselves (and their sister’s husband’s niece’s asthma) constantly. So why would would I want to “win” them?

Again–I know how that sounds!

It doesn’t sound very nice!

Sometimes I know exactly what I’m supposed to say/do in order to demonstrate niceness, and one of those things is to keep certain thoughts to myself.

But the truth is, I don’t want to be friends with certain people.  That’s how I feel.

I can hear my words through the filter of someone who won’t appreciate this post, and I understand that they expect me to be friendly. They will think I’m just being mean, for no reason.

Perhaps they will think to themselves how glad they are that we’re not friends, and then they will go smile and nod and pretend to care about the poodle of a cousin’s gardener, who is a much better person than me.

But, for the rest of my readers, I hope I’m making sense:

Being ‘nice’ feels like a cheap trick humans play on each other when they’re too stubborn or lazy or corrupt to build relationships on something more substantive.

I don’t want to practice social niceties, because I don’t want more people in the world just saying what they’re “supposed” to say.  I want honest, thoughtful, judgmental friends.

Be honest and judgmental:  do you think I need to suck it up and be “nice” anyway? 🙂

29 thoughts on “That’s Not Nice

  1. C DeRaps

    I totally agree with you, 100%…I feel the same way you do…100% of the time. It’s good to know someone else thinks the truth and not being a societal puppet. Sorry, Michael, the best way to show your ‘fruit’ is by always being truthful. Being fake just to please another is dishonest and can actually mislead another to believe you’re someone that you are not. Not for me, thank you! If God wanted me to lie to people He would have said so in His word. No where does it say that. I want judgmental friends, too! I know when I’m being judged and then kindly and lovingly lied to…doesn’t everyone?

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  2. insanitybytes22

    LOL! I’m so sorry, I’m with Michael here. Or maybe I’m even worse, like “Suck it up buttercup, be nice to others, because it’s not really about you at all.”

    It would however, be awfully nice if all the people complaining to me about their petty first world problems would just take ten seconds to ask me how I’m doing, but I digress….

    In case you haven’t notice I tend to suffer from the same affliction. I’m still thinking about writing that book,”How to NOT win friends and influence people.” I’m a real pro.

    I do think a better word is “be kind,” because “nice” actually just means “silly, insipid, and shallow.” Also, I think some of us have been given a gift of truth. We are called to speak it. It takes some training however, it’s a real art form, and the world is unlikely to ever thank you for it.

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    1. mrsmcmommy Post author

      I can honestly feel my face screwing up when someone asks me to pray for something shallow…
      Like, it’s a major conflict, and I panic a little bit because I’m not sure how to respond, and I only have a few seconds to respond…

      That’s why I like writing! I have time to write something brutal, and then I can erase it and start again before I actually send it. 😀

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  3. C DeRaps

    Just to clarify…what I meant by the last sentence is that EVERYONE judges, few tell you the truth. I want the truth…if you’re going to think it, say it…or go away, especially if you’re a fellow Christian. I’m not that desperate for friends. Oh, I’ll love you, just like the Bible says…but by Biblical standards not society’s.

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  4. Corey

    So, I was just thinking about the conversations that Jesus had that are recorded in the new Testament. Many of those dialogues were not the “make you feel better” interactions.

    Would it be better to cater to people’s feelings, or is it more applicable and worthwhile to “be about my father’s business?” (Luke 2:49)

    I find myself often telling people the things that they need to hear. Which is usually quite different than what they want to hear. Needless to say, I dont have many friends!

    Of course, I can I still tell the raggedy clerk at my grocery store how nice it is to see them, and that my wife looks great in those Jeans, but I am trying to pick my battles wiser these days.

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      1. Corey

        Sometimes yes, sometimes no. I think it depends more on me and where I am at the time though. There are times I am happier to see people in my life because I am well spiritually. Other times in my selfishness, not so much.

        The same with my wife. My opinion of how she looks depends on our marriage at the time. When we were struggling, she did not look as attractive to me than as she did as our relationship began to mend.

        Ok. So as I read this, I guess I’m still a bit shallow!
        I’m going to go work on that.

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      2. mrsmcmommy Post author

        I don’t think that’s shallow at all! I think those are fair and relevant observations…
        What I’m asking is how to handle those situations when the honest (though temporary) feeling you’re getting is “Meh” rather than “I’m so glad you’re here!” 🙂

        Maybe I should just start answering “God is good” to literally everything. That’s true no matter how I feel. 🙂

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  5. Juan DeVevo

    I think something can be said for what we pray about or what we ask others to pray about. We are to mourn with those who mourn and rejoice with those who rejoice, but I feel like we don’t suffer on a truly spiritual level in order to know what Paul meant when he said to “bear one another’s burdens”. I battle with how soft we’ve become as a people. Especially having been to other countries and see people with less than no material possessions celebrate Jesus and his mercy. I think people share such peripheral prayer requests so we don’t get into real things that we struggle with that effect our souls, and then we complain that no one is real at church. I get it. I hear the underlying reason for your disdain. I also struggle with just hanging out before our small group because its all conversation like that, but I tell myself the only way I’m going to care more for my brothers and sisters is just to be around them for a while, maybe ask some more penetrating questions, and then maybe the conversation won’t be so shallow anymore.

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    1. mrsmcmommy Post author

      I like you, Juan!
      It’s not natural for me to say that kind of thing when I’m thinking it. 😉 (I’m usually too busy looking for the other perspective to say anything encouraging.)
      But, truly, I appreciate your thoughtful input when you offer it…

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  6. Dylan Black

    So, I think the answer can be either “suck it up” or “do what you want” based on many variables: type of relationship, what you want out of the relationship, and how frequently this happens in the relationship (among countless others). But I think there are some principles to follow.

    First, I think affirming the feelings is fair game, even if the assumptions they are based on are super dumb or even sinful. Even if I can’t truly feel their pain (“I spent all my money on scratch tickets and now I can’t afford my cigarettes…”), I can usually honestly say “I can see why you are upset by that” and that usually is enough for the person to connect with you on an emotional level – not dissimilar to “How to win friends…”. Even if you don’t want to be their friend, I think this emotional connection is valuable enough to the receiver and cheap enough for the giver to just hand out like candy. “It must feel exciting and scary for your husband to start a new business.”

    Second, I also think it’s fair to move on to deeper stuff after an exchange or two on the surface level. Worst case scenario, you seem super weird and dull to the other person and they’ll eventually stop talking to you on their own – making them the jerk ^_-. Best case scenario you’ll find that they too are interested in deeper conversation and also didn’t know how to approach it.

    As far as the slimy feeling you described…. I think that’s only an issue if you betray your values. Unfortunately, the types of conversations you’re talking about are not typically the conversations where rational thinking is activated very well. So, you’re not going to actually influence a person in a “good” way within these conversations until you can take it a little deeper… I don’t think it’s a bad idea to maintain their goodwill until the conversations gets there. So alienating them with “That’s interesting… no wait… I meant tedious” is still no good, even though you’re right that manipulating them through the emotional surfacy conversations isn’t good either.

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    1. mrsmcmommy Post author

      Your specific quotes are helpful. I can say “That must be exciting for you” without betraying my values.

      But (I’m not saying you’re wrong buuuuut) for the record, this requires me to treat others the way I don’t want to be treated.
      It seems so patronizing to me! The quotes you suggested like “I can see why that upsets you” are PRECISELY what I say to my children when I’m internally smiling about their childishness…
      I don’t want people to treat me like a kid who doesn’t understand what grown ups REALLY mean when they say, “Thanks for the macaroni necklace!”

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      1. Dylan Black

        Okay, so then I think maybe you should take it to the next level after the affirmation. Try to find a way challenge their childish assumptions, maybe? I think that’s what you would want, right? Most people need the emotional connection first, it they’ll just ignore you I think. I don’t think that’s manipulative (or at least, not bad; depending on definitions, I’m fine with saying it’s okay to manipulate people), just effective.

        Regarding example about the business, I’m not sure what exact context this would be in… It sounds like you can either a) find a quick exit to the conversation b) you can try transitioning to another topic or c) your trapped and there is nothing else to talk about, so why not let them ramble about the business.

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      2. mrsmcmommy Post author

        The business was a random example. Real life situation: a member of my own family called in the middle of a busy homeschool morning. (The same family member who often complains that I don’t call/visit often enough, but not to my face.)
        To complicate things, the family member honestly believe she was calling regarding an emergency. Another family member posted a picture of her swollen foot and it looked broken! “SOMEONE really needs to take her to the hospital! Or someone needs to come get me, so I can take her to the hospital!”

        Me: “I’m sorry I really don’t know anything about that…”

        Other family member interprets this as, “I don’t care.” And, in some ways, I guess that’s true. I don’t “care” to gossip about it. There’s nothing I can do. My kids are crying two feet away from the phone…
        I get the feeling I’m supposed to say, “Wow, that’s horrible! I’m so sorry for her! You’re such a great person for wanting to take care of her! It’s too bad nobody close by cares as much as you, including her worthless husband!” 🙂 You get the idea…

        Be my life coach, Dylan. What should I say? (Keep in mind, I would still like to attend the funeral Wren this family member dies, because I do have affection for her. But, also keep in mind this is a family situation in which “You’re not welcome at the funeral” has actually come up.)

        (*Laughs) (*then cries) (*then laughs again)

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      3. Dylan Black

        So, I think in that situation, I think it’s totally legitimate to say “Hey I appreciate you calling and checking in [affirming that it’s good to check in, since you seem to genuinely think that] – can I call you back after we get some math done?” if that’s necessary. If the person doesn’t understand, that’s on them and you have to let them make that decision, IMO.

        When the conversation actually does happen, I would redirect them to empowering the injured individual – emphasizing the injured’s decisions. “Oh, shoot. Has she reached out to anyone? Have you talked to her about it and expressed your concerns?” When it becomes clear that the gossipper hasn’t actually taken as much action as her words would suggest she should, then I would fall back to the “Oh man, I hope that [injured person] is doing what she needs to care for herself” and if the gossipper insists that “She isn’t!” then I would agree with your other pursuit of “I guess I don’t really know” and as long as she keeps pushing the conversation, I’d push back in having her talk to the injured person to avoid the gossip.

        I mean, it’s kinda liberally cliche to say about “empowering” individuals, but I think when the empowering includes putting responsibility on individual decisions, rather than making decisions for people (which it sounds like the gossipper wants to do for the injured), it’s gonna keep the conversation in a good place.

        Hopefully that’s clear… I’m kinda multitasking ^_^ Just let me know if I sound like an idiot.

        (Also, I totally trashed your opinions from the last podcast in the Telegram channel, this morning. I think JB said he would blog about it, giving you a way to respond and yet hold your convictions that the telegram channel is evil ^_^)

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      4. mrsmcmommy Post author

        Haha! Yes! My dad texted me a few minutes ago and said, “Dylan is taking you to task!!!” 😁

        I never downloaded the telegram thing because I suspect it’s another platform my dad will get bored with eventually. But I look forward to the WordPress battle! May God have mercy on your soul.

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  7. Mel Wild

    Well, the word “nice” comes from both the Old French word “nice” meaning “careless, clumsy, weak, poor, needy, simple, stupid, silly, and foolish. The Latin version means “ignorant.”
    So, the opposite of being nice would be…

    Seriously, I feel exactly both ways about this. As a pastor I feel like the politician sometimes when people blather on and on about their first world self-pity problems. But, if I can develop a good relationship with them where they trust my intentions, I can at least broach the subject and help them see this annoying aspect of their behavior. This has actually worked in some cases. LOL! But that’s caring about them the way they should be cared for (and everyone else who’s annoyed with them thanks you, too!)

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  8. Gene

    Late to the party…as usual. Hello 🙂 been thinking about this post…sometimes I think or feel that whenever I weigh in on something among people I cultivate with, my words can be easily misinterpreted because I tend to be vague and soft spoken, leaving people to wonder. I hate small talk, Idle chatter, but I often get sucked into it when I say something that goes over someone’s head. Or under it, I don’t know. Haha. I tend to put on a smiley face and nod along like an agreeable bobble head. Then I retreat. It took me a year of living in a new place before God introduced me to someone I could talk deep with consistently. The company you keep is more important than making appearances. I’ll be friendly enough, “nice”, but only true friends with people who sharpen me. That’s why He has me with my husband! Our relationship is truly puzzling, and often maddening, but God has been using us to make each other stronger and sharper. That’s why I like you, Amanda! Your perspective is challenging and unique and I glean a lot from your insights. I don’t know if you’d like me too much in “real life” though, lol. As for prayer requests for small things, it never hurts to ask, but I think God delights in showing His love and favor to His children when we ask, wouldn’t it be better to just ask Him yourself? That’s what you can say next time someone asks for
    help finding a shoelace or what kind of dog they should get, “ask Him yourself!” Haha you might not get as many requests then 😋
    Well, sorry for the length! I know this subject is probably exasperated enough! I just wanted to share my two cents 🙂

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    1. mrsmcmommy Post author

      I think social media is really life, and I like you, Gene. 🙂
      In fact, social media is perfect for those of us who need a little time to think before we speak!

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  9. Gene

    Sweet!! 🙂 yes, that’s me, haha. Social media is really life, but it’s so…intangible, one dimensional, can be cold and impersonal too. At least that’s my experience. another thought I forgot to mention, Jesus said beware of when all men speak well of you…I’d rather be honest with someone than just tell them what I think they want to hear. No need to “suck it up, buttercup!”

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      1. Gene

        You’re welcome 🙂 and please, feel free to judge me! With a heart of love and fear of God, though, haha. Sometimes I don’t know what I’m saying…especially in responses

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