Instinct leads us to survive under any and all circumstances, sparking tremendous creativity that falls into patterns that compose our self-identity and behavior. Our personality is a monument to the kind of social pressures that have shaped us – family, friends, colleagues, spirit of the time – reflecting a type. Every individual invariably falls into one kind, and every generation grows the same ones over and over again. There is nothing original or unique about personality.
Some of us construct more attractive façades than others, yet every single one of them is forged on adaptation, a series of mechanisms that assures human response, buffeting isolation and aloneness. Still, behavioral masks come at the cost of soul contact and harbor disagreeable although often veiled characteristics, unconsciousness, anger and fear. Somewhere too, beautiful soul characteristics manage to surface from time to time, although scratching the surface, it is not difficult to discover flaws of selfishness.
There is one type of identity pattern that wins the popularity contest and manages to evade criticism. Everybody likes a nice person. Nobody wants to feel uncomfortable and the nice person is a booster for the morale of everyone, always chirpy and optimistic, careful, patient and above all subdued. Undoubtedly, there are a few authentically nice people in the world and they are indeed a blessing. But, the greater part are hopelessly, if unintentionally, phony. It is a survival modality, as desperate and as fixed as any. It will always depend on where the “niceness” comes from.
In every language of the world the term “nice” implies politeness and social correctness. In Spanish, being nice translates into “well educated”, often referred to as “buenito” (goody-goody). Such a person goes out of their way not to upset or be upset. Their motivation in life is to fit in, to be liked, approved and needed while being corresponded and appreciated appropriately. It is, in fact, the crux of perfect business dealings, investing, selling, purchasing and manipulating other people’s façades. Its adepts excel in emotional administration.
People who need to have power and be propped up keep nice people in the market, feeling indispensible and virtuous, especially in relationships that involve management of power. There is no better typology to know where the power lies and what it takes to have it. In fact, better than anyone they know all about it.
But nobody is born nice. An audience is required and must be held. It takes great effort and skill, handling energies, strategies, possibilities, and levels of communication, beginning with juggling one’s own attributes. It requires great control knowing how to skim surfaces, evade, distract, humor and divert attention. Good actors know how much effort is needed to appear relaxed, easy-going, pleasant, available and caring. It is hardly “natural”.
Being nice with someone sad implies doing everything to calm them down with words, gestures, and physical contact. With someone who is angry, simulation, humor and definite strategy is needed. However, in the face of fear, injustice, violence or neediness, a nice person, no matter how inwardly they might be stirred, tends to look away. Disappear. God, or the situation itself will take care of it; at best someone else will handle it. At the risk of having to use tactics that might suggest that they are violent, the nice person backs down. Because a nice person avoids all types of confrontation and succumbs to cowardice. Depression is preferable to action.
The redeeming factor is that niceness equates to kindness and self-sacrifice, and contains great doses of each. In the past, Mom, Dad, school, Church, or Big Sister, constantly reinforced the belief that good and dedicated behavior earns love which would not be forthcoming otherwise. To not be nice would mean rejection and isolation. Whereas the rebellious or provocative types go in exactly the opposite direction to get attention, for the nice person a wrong step spells danger, deprived of praise and subject to loneliness. Better to keep control, practicing benevolence, doing charitable acts, and fulfilling interminable social obligations.
There is tremendous pride involved. A nice person feels subtly righteous, validated, since no one disagrees with the idea of gently preserving the status quo and practicing diplomacy. In order for a nice person to be an innovator and a leader, they must be especially proficient manipulators, excelling in subterfuges in order to get what they want and instinctively spotting who can give them what, when, and how. The commodity they sell is comfort.
To feel justified for their own lack of daring and inactivity, nice people exploit the desire that others have for privacy and the kind of secrecy that makes them feel great in the absence of opposition. There is always a market in a world where people think that they will be happy if everything is predictably comfortable, secure, and quiet. Left to their own rhythm and preferences, the ordinary person fiercely maintains the illusion of freedom and respect. An idyllic illusory peace is sustained in the aura of niceness.
Paradoxically, transparency is uncomfortable for the nice person, even if the image they transmit is the opposite. Image is all-important. So the nice person wears many veils and takes things the same way he gives them out, superficially and at face value. Safely.
¡To think that our dictionary originally defined “nice” as “foolish”!
If you want to be considered nice, adhere to the following code of ethics. Never point out mistakes and make sure to divert a potentially uncomfortable issue enough that no one feels singled out. Don’t scratch the surface.
Accept. Adapt. Best not to say much. Cultivate a smile and the shiny-eye-look that simulates listening, peppered by appropriate nodding and spurting the right phrases.
The key is never-too-much of anything, but also never too-little.
Be ready to retract yourself at any moment and apologize. Wait for signs and for permission. In other words, first check out the approval rating. Look ahead.
Don’t look directly into anyone’s eyes for very long, lest you offend, or be found out, especially if you have not quite achieved the art of masking emotions through distraction. Just let things be.
Don’t call attention to anything that might upset anyone. If it upsets you, it is bound to upset another. Hide behind someone else; it is always better to be second in command, especially if you control the leader.
Professionally, it is lethal to point out mistakes. As a matter of procedure, it is especially impolite to tell things as they are. They must be couched delicately. Before proceeding, reactions must be keenly studied, spotting power and weaknesses imperceptibly.
Finally, if you wish to appear nice, never ever claim to be “right”; allow someone else to take the merit, especially if you are of the female gender.
The phony-nice person is a bit of a snob and doesn’t pay much attention to insignificant people unless someone powerful is watching. In their own innermost recesses they know just how powerful they are; self-complacency makes the game worthwhile. The control and influence they hold over others keeps them strong and inflexible.
Niceness disguises the art of invisibility and deviousness. It has been the classic posture of women for millennia, the way we learned to have and handle power. Only veterans of loneliness, sensitivity and depth, irreverent, impulsive, outspoken, and dissatisfied, risk change, rejection, and authenticity. Slowly, by discovering ourselves, women are joining the ranks of courageous social action.