“Nice” is possibly the most overused, meaningless and mundane word I can think of. It also happens to be an adjective that people often use to describe me. The word is plastered over the pages of my yearbook and in letters from friends. I’m often hugged and told, “You’re so nice.” I’ve heard the word from colleagues, classmates, kids and crazy hot, sexy guys (because that’s what I really want to hear from a crazy hot, sexy guy).
I’m over it – and here’s why.
People call me nice because I do things for them instead of letting them do things for themselves. In being nice, I’m actually disempowering those around me. I’m taking away their chances to do things for themselves. I’m contributing to the entitlement that runs rampart in our modern society, and worst of all, I’m doing the very thing I am trying so desperately not to do.
I’m on a quest for acceptance, yet my nice behavior is sending a subliminal message to others that the way they do things is not good enough.
Here’s what I mean:
It’s senior year at Michigan State, and I’ve just dismissed my three classmates from my sorority room so I can “finish our group project.” My classmates’ meager contributions are on my desk, and I all but ignore them as I go on to type up a 60-page report with accompanying storyboards and artwork while they enjoy a spring afternoon and pitchers of beer at PT O’Malley’s. Are they apathetic, irresponsible and dumb, or are they just used to Nice Carrie finishing the project herself?
It’s Saturday morning and The Professor is sitting on the couch with a full bottle of water in his hand. “Mommy, can you get me some water?” he asks. He has a full bottle of water in his hand. But he wants me to get him some water. Is he a lazy and incapable, or is he just used to his Nice Mommy getting it for him?
It’s Wednesday night and Lancelot is taking the boys to swim class. I’ve written out a list of things to remember and a timeline for getting to the class, placing it carefully on top of the bag packed carefully with items needed in sequential order from top to bottom. I mention that the boys like to play with the trains there, so maybe they could leave a little earlier than I originally suggested. “What time should we leave, then?” asks Lancelot. “4:20, or 4:25?” Is my college-educated, executive-level husband incapable of deciding what time to leave the house, or is he just used to his Nice Wife figuring this kind of stuff out for him?
There is a definite pattern here. I tend to turn other people’s problems into my problems, even when it’s inappropriate. There’s nothing wrong with lending a hand. There is something wrong with doing so much for other people that they fail to appreciate what’s being done for them, and instead feel powerless and uncertain when faced with doing simple tasks for themselves.
Let me be clear – It’s good to be nice. Nice people are great. We need more nice in our world (cough cough, Donald Trump, cough cough). I don’t mean to discredit the power of common courtesy, friendliness and genuine concern for others. I just think it’s time to stop being a doormat in the hopes of making people feel good. People don’t feel good when everything is done for them. They feel good when they do things for themselves. They feel proud and capable only when they are given a chance to make their own choices and fail or succeed on their own merit.
I want to empower, not discourage. The way to empower others is to give people wings, not carry them on my shoulders.
I’m done being nice. Call me compassionate, call me encouraging, or call me empowering. Say I’m kind and enthusiastic and charming. Label me loving, joyful and fun. Just don’t call me “nice.” That’s too small of a word for the type of empowerment I want to encourage in others, and it’s far too little to describe the type of person I’m determined to be.