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Recovering 'nicely'

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By The Staff

I am a recovering nice person. As a former nice person, I rarely said no to anything, even (and especially) to things I really, really, really didn't want to do.

Because I couldn't stand the thought of someone possibly thinking badly of me for saying no, I've done some things I had no business doing - heading up committees, teaching a class, organizing a rummage sale.

I've bought vacuum cleaners and encyclopedias that I didn't need or want because I didn't want the salesmen to think badly of me. I've allowed people to use me for the same reason. Need someone to bake 47 dozen cookies by tomorrow or chaperone 150 middle school girls? Ask Nancy - she's too nice to say no!

As a former nice person, I never voiced a disagreement, never complained about bad service, never returned damaged merchandise.

I never stood up for myself and carefully kept all negative feelings bottled up nicely until I exploded like Mount Vesuvius, killing innocent people in my wake. But since that's not very nice, I tried not to do that too often.

Even though I tried my hardest never to do anything that wasn't nice, a few years ago I inadvertently offended a friend. She was angry and let me know it, and as a nice person I not only allowed her to yell at me, but I helped her by agreeing with everything she said and added a few self-accusations of my own.

I apologized repeatedly. I was sincerely sorry that she was angry with me, sincerely sorry to be the target of someone's anger. Even more than that, I was profoundly sorry that she no longer thought of me as one of the nicest people you'd ever want to meet.

I wrote her letters of apology and sent her gifts. I praised her to others and let mutual friends know just how terrible I felt for offending this woman.

The truth is, she and I weren't particularly close friends and my reconciliation campaign was less about restoring a friendship than it was about restoring my image as a nice person. Not just that I would be nice again in her mind, but in everyone else's.

That's when I realized how narcissistic and dishonest niceness is, at least my niceness.

I think it was Oprah Winfrey who called niceness "the disease to please."

It's actually a manipulative way of controlling people. If I'm nice, then how can you not like me? And if you don't like me, then it's because there's something wrong with you.

See what I mean?

Another recovering nice person said that when someone once 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 that the whole point?"

That was once my thinking, too. Everybody must like me. No one must ever be angry at me. I must maintain a faade of niceness at all times, must deny, or at least hide, my true feelings. Grit my teeth and smile, smile, smile.

After all, that's the nice thing to do.

However, being nice - the superficial, neurotic need to have everyone like me - is awfully tiring. Plus, niceness isn't a godly attribute. It's phony, fake, plastic, pretentious. It may look other-centered on the outside, but its motives are wholly self-centered.

At its core, niceness is all about me.

So, I've decided that I don't want to be nice anymore (although I do want to be kind, which is the fruit of a life that draws its need for approval and acceptance from God and finds its expression in acts of mercy).

I don't want to worry any more about who might or might not like me, about what people think about me. Not everyone's going to like me, and while that was difficult to accept at first, it's finally OK. It won't kill me.

Besides, Jesus likes me. He accepts me. I have his approval, and really, who else's do I need?