Why Pretending To Be Nice All The Time is Toxic For Us

May 17, 2016

If you haven’t got something nice to say…

There’s something to be said about putting on a veneer of politeness from time to time – when you’re at a funeral and your least fave relative shows up, that’s not really the best time to pick a fight.

But for some reason, chunks of our population have it in our heads that we’re supposed to be nice to everyone. No matter who they are, no matter what the situation, we ought to at least pretend to like someone just for the sake of it.

Nowhere is this attitude more prevalent than inside office culture. Plaster on a polite smile for the person that annoys you most on the floor, pretend like you’re all best friends, all in support of office harmony. When they walk away you grind your teeth, let your eyes widen and nostrils flare, and maybe you turn to the person beside you and say, “God, I can’t stand her. Why is she always like that?!”

And so gossip starts. Your friend doesn’t say anything, but Becky two cubes down overheard it and now she’s talking to Sam about how none of you can stand the same person. It trickles through the office through whispers, and now there’s an entire conversation going on in low tones in a sea of grown adults who apparently think juvenile behavior is acceptable, so long as it has a smiling veneer.

It’s garbage. It’s absolute garbage. While you don’t have to get up in someone’s face and give them a bulleted list of every reason why they make your life miserable, pretending to be nice to everyone all the time is toxic for both them and us.

For starters, it’s dishonest. When we call someone our friend and then turn around to talk about them behind their back, we’re letting everyone know exactly what we think of people we call friends. Have you heard the saying about how a cheater will always be a cheater? There’s some common wisdom that you shouldn’t date someone who cheated on their partner to be with you, because the odds are pretty good that they’re going to be just as willing to step out on you too. That wisdom holds true when it comes to friendships. Every time I hear a friend gossip to me about how disgusting they find the actions of one of their “friends” I know they either already have, or are willing to do, the exact same thing to me.

Another great reason to refuse to participate in this failure of adulthood is that as the listener you can never be sure that what you’re hearing is actually true.

I had a relationship once that functioned this way. She’d say one thing to my face but actually mean something else entirely; she’d go and tell our mutual friends what a bad partner I was for refusing to ever do what she actually wanted. My friends, naturally, had no idea that she wasn’t actually telling me what she wanted. When she told me she wanted to go see a movie and then liked it afterwards, I assumed she did. In a fight later on she’d say she hated it, and if I’d really loved her I “would have known”.

When we decide this is an alright way of talking to folks, we’re also muddying the waters. Are we all supposed to be mind-readers now, picking out subtle cues hidden in words that mean the opposite of what they’re supposed to?

Why? Why not just say what we mean?

Why not just say you don’t like the movie, or that you don’t actually need help learning this application, or that you’d rather not go out to lunch? Are we so afraid of hurting each other’s feelings we’d rather sacrifice our integrity, mental sanity and identity to avoid it?

We can’t all like everything and everyone, and we shouldn’t be expected to. It’s okay to have different opinions. Hell, it makes life better when we do. How boring would it be if we all liked the same things all the time, or the same people? This feeling that we all have to pretend to be nice to everyone is turning us the same shade of beige and bland, and we desperately need to find our uniqueness again and say what we mean, or simply not say anything at all.

Comment: Do you agree with this viewpoint? 


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