Monday, May 24, 2010
I’ve mentioned before that I don’t care for the word “nice.” Part of my reasoning is that niceness often comes with a price. “Nice” isn’t genuine…it is something we often are in spite of how we truly feel underneath. We’re nice to the guy who is rude to us, just to get him to stop. We’re nice to our unfair boss so we won’t get fired. We’re nice nice nice, smile smile smile, fake fake fake.
When I lived in England, I learned that Americans are very different in this respect. We tend to be instantly friendly and nice , immediately welcoming and wonderful, then after we know someone we move on to gossiping and judging. The opposite seemed to be true with my English schoolmates. They were fairly standoffish at first, then after I knew them they were friendly and nice, and it seemed more genuine. Which is better? While I do appreciate American hospitality, I hate the fakeness we’ve all been bred to emote, like toothy, smiling cheerleaders telling a nerd she’s pretty.
Don’t get me wrong. I believe we should be polite, and yes even nice, especially to strangers. We all need to give some positive energy, to put aside the fake crap and give each other the benefit of the doubt.
Those “reserved Englishmen” aren’t actually reserved. They just seem that way to outgoing Americans. Americans’ perceptions don’t make it so. It doesn’t make the judgment true.
The mean teacher you had in high school may have actually been a wonderful, caring, warm person, but at that point in her life was going through a divorce. Does that make her a bad person?
Pride and Prejudice provides an excellent literary illustration of my point.
When someone is mean to me, disappoints me, angers me, or misunderstands me, I tend to withdraw, making me seem quiet, cold, and distant. Does that make me a cold person? To that person, yes. They have no idea that inside I’m hurting. They will go on thinking the worst of me. Does that make their perception of me the truth? It’s true in their world.
We can’t change others’ perceptions of us. Survey a random handful of my acquaintances and I’m sure you’ll get several descriptions of the person I am. Nice, helpful, friendly, reliable, or selfish, cold, rude, disrespectful. I can’t change how they see me. And honestly, I don’t care to.
The trick is not to let other people’s perceptions, or misperceptions, define us. How do we do this? Retreat to the only person who truly knows you: You. Only you know the whole story. That is the only perception that counts. Inside, are you a good person? Are you loving and kind? Only you know the truth. We must find the strength to be satisfied with that knowledge.
So, it’s been a stressful week. And it’s interesting that my last blog post was about handling stress. I think I’ll go re-read it, make a list, and then go to bed. Again.