Sep 14, 2015

LESSONS FROM A RECOVERING “NICE GIRL”


Beware of being something outside which you are not inside. Beware of being polite when you are not having polite thoughts in your heart. Beware of appearing friendly when you have enmity in your heart. It is good to be anything if you are inside and outside the same.
–Parthasarathi Rajagopalachari

“You’re trying to be sweet and nice.” The words stopped me in my tracks. But I am nice. There was a catch here. My colleague was discouraging me from taking on tasks that weren’t my job. I was “just trying to be helpful.” But this time the words hit a different part of me and echoed in my heart.

I had grown up always wanting to do the right thing. “Doing what’s right keeps you happy and safe.” If I had a dollar for every time my mom said that over the years… Of course, she’s right on an esoteric level. And I believe with full conviction that we will always be guided and supported when we follow our highest truth. But how I internalized that growing up was to be a “nice girl.” Maybe that sounds like a good thing to you, but let me explain. At best, being nice is courteous, at worse it’s passive aggressive until a bandwidth is reached and some degree of lashing out is inevitable as the pressure buckles the effort to maintain a docile exterior.

Don’t get me wrong; I’m a kind person at heart. But I fell into the trap of believing that I had to put a smile on my face and being accommodating under all circumstances. What I’ve learned, however, is while this approach may be nice, it’s also a lie. Being nice isn’t real. Being nice is self-centered. It’s not putting other people first, it’s being afraid of what other people think that you do whatever it takes to make other people feel okay, even if (especially if) you don’t feel okay.

Kindness, however, is real. Kindness comes from the heart. It’s the “random acts” that flow spontaneously. It’s the natural outpouring of generosity. Kindness is being happy under all circumstances, not because you’re making it pleasant for everyone else, but because you’re genuinely balanced and joyful in your heart. Kindness is contagious.

But there’s another side of kindness too. It has to do with sticking to what’s right. Gandhi was kind. Nelson Mandela was kind. Martin Luther King Jr. was kind. You can see it in their eyes. But they were also all fiercely convicted in their truth. And sometimes that truth upset people.

Actually, often truth upsets people. We’re all used to being nice so each other, that when someone actually bothers to point out what’s as plain as day, we’re so shocked at what we’re afraid to accept that maybe we’re wrong, we get offended. Comedians deal with it all the time. There’s a status quo of political correctness they stretch to bring awareness through levity. And people can grow upset and demonize them instead of examining the intricacies and gray areas in ourselves it’s our duty to face. It reminds me of what the witch says in Into the Woods. “You’re so nice. You’re not good, you’re not bad, you’re just nice. I’m not nice, I’m not good, I’m just right. I’m the witch. You’re the world.”

I’ve cleared a lot of layers of character traits over the years between meditating regularly and just, well, growing into myself. Graduating from nice to kind came as the next layer of the infinite onion we must continually peel back to reveal our true selves (like ogres, or parfaits – everybody likes parfaits). It means being real. It means having the courage to be truthful even if it is uncomfortable. And a big part of life is getting comfortable being uncomfortable.

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