Friday, July 19, 2013

The Danger of Being a Nice Person

Most people who know me probably would say I'm a nice person. Mostly, I think I am too. Even if you're rude to me, I'm likely to smile at you. Like the lady in the hotel elevator who “kindly” informed me that "this elevator is for the executive floors only, miss," to which I actually kindly responded, with a smile, “Thanks, m'am,” and got off on an executive floor where my hotel room was located.

But, you know, whatever. That lady judged me based on some biased preconception and likely she was just trying to “help me out.” I don't mean to excuse her rude behavior, but if I got into an ugly confrontation every time someone passed crappy judgment on me, I'd be a very bitter person by now.

Except, there are many moments I regret not having stood up for myself. I'm sure we all have something about us that people get all wrong. For me, it's that people sometimes treat me as “the little woman,” the bubble-headed klutz who only cares about her hair and shopping. I'm not sure why. I mean, yeah, I care about my hair. And yes, I'm forgetful and klutzy. But so what? I can whip your tail back and forth with my knowledge of American literature--and a lot of other things. I'm smart. Sometimes clever. I can be pretty witty. Et cetera. But sometimes people assume the least of me. It's in the little things—like when I try to participate in a discussion about some recent death and get shut down with a “teasing” comment that implies I'm only interested because the guy who died was hot, and not because his death from a drug overdose is reflective of a scary issue endemic to our culture; or even when I do charity work and people imply that wearing makeup while doing it makes me somehow less of a humanitarian. It's also in the big things, when they know what I'm capable of, but strive to put me in my place, cutting me out of an intelligent group conversation entirely, only turning to me to stare at my breasts or to remind everyone for the millionth time about some funny (stupid) little thing I did on the way to the forum (or whatever). Ha. ha.

But I'm nice. So usually I just smile. Sometimes I even laugh with them. It's true that I detest ugly confrontations, but my problem is even bigger than that. Because when people aren't so kind to me, sometimes I actually feel bad that I might hurt their feelings if I point it out to them. I recognize that this is a warped form of compassion, a certain emotional immaturity perhaps. To feel so much that you feel bad calling out the person hurting you. 

Honestly, I don't know how to tackle this problem. But it wears me down. It makes me feel very small. I suppose there's a certain hazard to being a nice person. People sometimes walk all over you, take advantage. But, I don't want to be an unkind person. Or cold. Or apathetic. But I'm starting to realize something. By saying nothing when someone is treating me poorly (intentionally or otherwise), I'm teaching them to treat me like I am less than I am. Where is the kindness in that? For me or for them? Imagine the kind of relationship we could have, so true and meaningful, if we learned to treat one another with respect and kindness—and without judgment based on meaningless idiosyncrasies.

So, be kind, yes. Always. But don't let others be unkind to you. Maybe one has nothing to do with the other. Or everything.


Carolina Valdez Miller writes books about teenagers who deal with normal stuff in extraordinary circumstances. Sometimes she gives them magic. She lives in Indianapolis with her husband, Bigger Bean and Little Bean and a freakishly cute maltipoo named Snowflake Princess Buttercup. You can find her at her personal blog, Twitter, Facebook, and sometimes Walmart. Everybody goes there.


  1. We are the same person, C. xxx

  2. Carolina_Valdez_MillerJuly 20, 2013 at 11:06 AM

    Yup, yup. This is true. <3 <3

  3. I have the same problem.

  4. LK Gardner-GriffieJuly 20, 2013 at 12:12 PM

    Having grown up in southern California with the "typical" appearance of blonde-haired, blue-eyed girl, I have spent a lifetime battling those preconceived judgments. The expectation of a vapid, superficial, Barbie doll whose heavenly realm was the beach, and mecca found in the form of the nearest mall, and not someone to be serious about, but the one you want to call for a good time. Only I didn't fit the mold. I'd rather prove I could hit the ball farther than anyone else, or swim faster, or packed a hefty punch in Karate class.

    And now I work in a male dominated industry in a male dominated profession as a system analyst/process efficiency expert. When questions are asked about who planned out and implemented a sophisticated tool to support a gap in the enterprise system, no one quite seems to mask their surprise when they find out it's "the girl."

    Based on a lifetime of examples being thrust in my face, my observation is that we, as a collective society, are lazy about getting to know people. It is so much faster and easier to label someone and pigeonhole them based on visual indicators. Because people see the effort you put into your appearance, it is easier to classify you as caring more about your appearance than anything else, and they completely miss the underlying drive and compassion. Slap on the label and you don't actually have to go to the trouble of getting to know the person.

    Next time someone denigrates your efforts with hair and makeup, tell them it's your war paint. It is your preparation for battle, and you'd like to present a pleasing aspect instead of a scary one when going to help people who are in fear of so many other things you don't want to add to their list, and it helps you mentally prepare. :)

  5. Carolina_Valdez_MillerJuly 20, 2013 at 12:55 PM

    This, exactly: "we, as a collective society, are lazy about getting to know people. It is so much faster and easier to label someone and pigeonhole them based on visual indicators."

    It's just easier for people to stick us in a box and keep us there. I think some people prepare to see us in a certain way, for their own selfish reasons.

    It's funny you say that about the war paint. That's very much how I see it. In Haiti, especially, there was so much so out of my comfort zone, so horrifying and scary, I had to do what I could to feel normal, to feel like I was still the same person, even though I was falling apart. And too, I had to be so close to people, holding their heads against my stomach, supporting them while they were getting worked on. They deserved to have me feeling like my best self. Obviously I'm the same with or without makeup, but if I feel better, then I am better, if that makes sense. So much in Haiti weakened me. I had to do what I could to feel strong.

  6. Carolina_Valdez_MillerJuly 20, 2013 at 12:56 PM

    In that case, I hope you find your voice, too, Myrna. <3 <3

  7. You are brilliant, not just "clever." You are over the top as it pertains to kindness. And the kindness in you demonstrates itself every time you let it pass when people "pass" judgement. The thing is, those who care know YOU. Those who don't know YOU...and choose to condescend, or belittle, or whatever, well, the best thing for you is to let it go...which is the best thing for them too, although they will never know. So much of kindness is behind the scenes, after all...

  8. I have this problem, but an issue with a "best" friend in the neighborhood cured me of some of it (basically because the situation started affecting my kids--my desire for no conflict, and not saying what needed to be said allowed her to feel like she could bully my kids. Yep. Unbelievable).

    Now I pick my battles--I speak up when it is someone I will have a lasting relationship with. I've found it easier to "defend" myself (I don't want to imply that I get defensive) by saying, "Just so you know...." Because it is just so they know--I am secure with who I am as a person, but they need to hear it.

    Sometimes things just need to be said. And even though it feels like an unkindness, or conflict, I don't think it is. And some people (my neighbor) will never understand their unkindness in the steamroll and what happens after.

    If you speak up respectfully, you will be honoring yourself and the other person. Otherwise they might turn around and do it to someone who isn't as strong as you, and that is a really big unkindness.

  9. I hear you, Carolina, and I think it must be something women typically deal with more often than men. If you want to dress nice, look halfway decent, and put on a little lipstick it shouldn't make it open season for commentary on your brains, capabilities or skills. I'm also southern, which I thinks adds another level of complexity-- because no one ever told me to "stand up for myself" as a child, they told me to "be nice".
    I enjoyed this post and the comments-- lots of wisdom there. I think a respectful, firm response is the answer for me-- now to implement it. Great topic!

  10. I think that this is possible.

  11. Even if you're rude to me, I'm likely to smile at you. this thing verry great

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