Nice doesn’t exist.
My exasperated English teacher in third grade once wrote these words in huge letters on the blackboard during our story-writing workshops. When I once described a cat as nice during an essay exercise, she circled it in red and left several question marks. “No. Try again,” she flatly wrote in an annoyed note at the bottom of the page.
So, I grew up believing that nice, doesn’t really mean much to people. However, that’s not the case with the word “good”. Good is somehow always brimming with much hope and positivity, especially when associated with people. ‘She’s too good to be true’ is a phrase you would have often heard. ‘She’s too nice’ doesn’t have the same meaning. It usually means a person is a doormat.
The word ‘good’ might sound generic, but it appears to be a far more wholesome and layered compliment than the word ‘nice’. “When someone says ‘xyz is nice’, it sounds so vague. It’s as if you don’t know what else to say about them. It sounds like a half-hearted compliment. But a ‘good’ person, inspires more confidence,” says Krishnapriya Sharma, an Indian Abu Dhabi-based expat. “It’s as if you know the person has a solid presence and is also pleasant to be around,” she adds.
A good person appears to inspire more trust in people. “A good person sounds like someone you can rely on,” answers Jacob George, a 31-year-old British Dubai-based freelancing content creator. “You feel safe around them,” says Kate Sean, an American Dubai-based public relations consultant. “A good person stands out more than a nice person, I feel. There’s something more distinct about being good, than just nice,” she says.
So clearly, goodness wins over niceness. But, what does it mean to be a good person?
‘A person who knows their self-worth’
So what does goodness entail?
Empathy. The ability to set boundaries firmly without feeling guilt and being overwhelmed. A person who looks at resolving conflicts in a rather healthy manner, without trying to appease someone or backing down from their ground. “That’s how I would describe a good person,” explains Jean Shahdadpuri, a Dubai-based behavioural health specialist. A good person implies stability and reliability; someone you can trust. They stand up for what they believe in. “They don’t allow themselves to be mistreated,” she says. Such people would forgive someone who hurt them without bearing malice, but won’t trust them immediately, adds Shahdadpuri.
A good person is someone you can trust. They stand up for what they believe in and don’t allow themselves to be mistreated
A good person cares for others, but doesn’t carry the entire world’s burden on their shoulders, she says. They are in a decent health space and don’t allow others to deplete their reserves of energy. They politely direct others to solutions and respectfully step back because they value their own emotional well-being, first. “They know what they can handle,” she adds.
On the other hand, how can a person taking on everyone’s problems without discrimination stay grounded? They don’t.
“They get tired doing so, but because they have no sense of boundaries and keep seeking external validation, they will continue offering help. They are doing it to make themselves feel good. Even, if it’s at the cost of their own mental well-being,” says Shahdadpuri.
Owing to a person’s lack of boundaries that come from past issues that involve rejection and trauma, they’re also eager to please. “They would rather keep giving than receiving, to reduce that feeling of emptiness inside,” says Chrysoular Arvanitaki, a Dubai-based life coach. They believe that by going overboard for other people and avoiding unpleasantness, they’re doing the right thing by being ‘nice’. However, this results in them suffering exhaustion, anxiety and possibly depression.
People's lack of boundaries can emerge from past issues that involve rejection and trauma. They're eager to please. They would rather keep giving than receiving, to reduce that feeling of emptiness...
Choosing assertiveness versus aggression
A lot comes down to how a person asserts their boundaries too. Everyone trusts a person who can clearly assert their boundaries, without making it ugly or unpleasant. They can argue a point without mud-slinging. It’s about choosing assertiveness over aggression, explains Lakshmi Saranya, a Dubai-based clinical psychologist at Deira Mediclinic.
It’s about choosing assertiveness over aggression. Assertiveness means a respectful and clear communication of needs and boundaries, showing confidence and self-assuredness while respecting the rights and feelings of others
Explaining the difference she says, “Assertiveness means a respectful and clear communication of needs and boundaries, showing confidence and self-assuredness while respecting the rights and feelings of others. In contrast, aggressiveness disregards others' rights and feelings, often using confrontational language or behaviour that can be intimidating and hurtful.”
Don’t be a doormat
For Niveditha Menon, an Abu Dhabi-based homemaker, niceness came at a price. Recalling her days in a corporate environment she says, “Nothing came from that niceness. I helped out everyone. I mistakenly thought that was resilience, when it was actually just being steamrolled. My colleagues would lie and fabricate tales to my manager, getting me in trouble and I didn’t defend myself, as a result everyone else thought that I was weak-minded and weak-willed, and behaved as if I didn’t exist. So, I lost on all counts.”
It has been a tough journey for her to identify the negative patterns in her life, especially when it comes to oversharing with the wrong people. “I had a tendency to just talk and trust everyone, personally and professionally, without holding back. I’m slowly learning what to share and what to withhold, rather than finding myself in another painful situation again,” she says.
‘Be cautious but not cynical’
Remove those rose-tinted glasses.
You need to exercise some amount of caution when trusting people, explains Shahdadpuri. If you go with the rainbows-and-sunshine belief that “everyone is good at heart”, you are setting up a trap for yourself, she says.
“It does not mean that you get cynical about people, because that has a different and rather negative effect on the environment around you,” she says. “However, you need to have that self-awareness and understand who you can trust, how much you can trust and with what.” Shahdadpuri provides an example: If you’re starting a business, would you partner with a reliable, resourceful and helpful person who knows what they’re doing, or rather someone who is just essentially nice but really doesn’t know what to do?