From my perspective, the individual person doesn’t contribute much to the progress of a modern society. Only groups that are reaching towards the same goal can make a substantial difference that can be seen on a larger scale. But, having said that, the individual is, in normal circumstances, part of a group and that group again forming larger groups that then have an influence on the bigger picture. For an individual to have influence on their peers, traits like, for example, trust, reliability and frankness are far more important to achieve their goals.
The perception of these traits are based on the information that anyone reveals – spoken as well as body language. Perhaps a reason that some people hold back information about themselves or conceal information about anything intentionally is because they assume that doing so will be advantageous for the whole group without thinking about possible disadvantages.
From now on, I will refer to this kind of behavior to conceal information as “being nice”. I’m aware that this doesn’t reflect the whole spectrum of the meaning of the word nice. For that reason I define the word nice within the following frame.
What I mean by “nice” is being courteous, wanting to please others without tending to one’s own wants, and being humble. A nice person puts their needs second to other people’s.
In the view of some, shelving your own needs to let others go first, letting others have things their way, and catering to the needs of others will make life easier by avoiding conflicts and unpleasant situations. In my opinion the result can often be the opposite. Peace is kept by repressing their own wishes in favor of others. This can lead to a distorted image of a person that can be interpreted as disinterest in others, and makes it harder to get to know another person at a deeper level.
In my opinion, holding back information and feelings leads to misunderstandings, discontent and missed chances to better get to know others and oneself.
Problems and conflicts
In daily life, this form of ‘niceness’ can result in a situation where a person feels that their preferences are not being addressed properly. For example, a person may feel that smaller things that are not “worth” an outcry, like dirty dishes. But it could also be something more substantial, like wanting to have more time by oneself instead of spending the majority of leisure time with others.
I’m sure there are many reasons to keep inconveniences to yourself. For instance, you don’t want to hurt another person’s feelings, or even think that the other person can’t handle the whole truth. On the other hand, this kind of behaviour reveals another story about the inner self – inner fears, lack of motivation due to tiredness, or a potential misjudgement of the other person …
There are three ways to handle such unpleasant situations. First, changing the way you are used to do things, to stay with the example from above, cleaning the dishes. This requires self reflection and adaptability. This means that you have to recognize that something is unpleasant/wrong and then actively agree on how far you are willing to adapt your behavior to what the other person wants.
Second, by coping with the adaption to an unpleasant situation without reflecting on your own needs. By bottling up your feelings you can avoid adapting mentally. This inevitably means that your inner bomb will explode sooner or later. Often, unresolved problems creep in slowly and manifest themselves in subliminal negative behaviour / commentary towards others, or discontent with others or oneself. Humankind aspires to solve problems; unsolved problems therefore cause unnecessary stress that should better be avoided.
This brings us to the third way, which is also the only sustainable approach in the long run. It requires a certain openness about your own feelings. Show the other person who you really are and what your wants are to allow you both to grow together.
When a collective decision is being made, it doesn’t help when one person holds back their opinion. Quite the opposite, when the decision making is left to the more decisive person, that person is put in the difficult position of making the right decision for the whole group. This is difficult to achieve without prioritising your own preferences.
It is not always possible to find the best solution for everybody. Nethertheless does it pay to try when possible. For example, say that a group of three people wants to choose a restaurant. The group consists of two indecisive “nice” people and one person who is more decisive, who likes to take everybody’s interests into consideration. For the simplicity of the example, two restaurants are available. One of the restaurants is the top preference of two of the three and the other one is top for the third person.
If the two nice people don’t speak their mind, or say that they don’t care, the third person has to make a decision for the whole group. This decision might be self-interested, or the person may try, based on their knowledge of the rest of the group, to make a decision that suits the majority. A self-interested decision could be the result, since perfect knowledge of everybody’s preferences is impossible. As a consequence, at least one person will be disappointed, possibly even the decisive person if they decide to be non-egoistic. This not only puts the decisive person in an unpleasant situation, it also prolongs the process of making a decision.
Decisions made this way lead, over the short or long term, to discontent. Often, the nice person perceives their humbleness as accommodating, but only they know that they are. This can produce positive feelings, because they did something good for the others, but will lead to discontent if their own needs are repeatedly not met.
Wanting to accommodate somebody might arise from assumptions that they, the other person, would prefer something different from what the nice person would have chosen. Sometimes you have to wade into new waters to better understand what somebody really likes or dislikes. Confront somebody and you will notice that your assumptions about what they think were not completely right, or even the opposite. Who can perfectly fit into somebody else’s shoes? This state can only be approximated by articulating your thoughts and feelings.
After everybody has expressed their preference, a majority in favour of one decision can be easier found. That way everybody’s preferences are taken into consideration and nobody has to be the sole decision maker.
Interest in others
Showing interest in others simply makes people happy. No matter how marginal, it opens otherwise closed doors. If you assume from the start that you don’t have anything interesting to tell or hear from another person, this undermines the chance to learn whether that’s really the case. Maybe the person in front of you is much more amazing than you would have guessed. We’ve all been deceived by first impressions. Even people that you have known for a long time can reveal something interesting that you didn’t know before.
Asking a question also reveals something about the person that asked – for example, who that person is and what interests they have. Not asking a question implies that you are holding back information about yourself, or at least only revealing part of the full picture.
Not wanting to show who you are can have different origins: it might be fear of being boring, or that the other person would think badly of you. This fear may originate from the belief that the other person is superior to oneself. Or maybe it is just laziness that keeps somebody from asking.
In my experience, interest in others leads directly to interest by these others in oneself. That way you might find the friendliest and most interesting people. I ask myself quite often why people wouldn’t ask questions about me. I now assume that the same fears of self-revelation hold others back from asking. One has to take the initial step.
By talking, and therefore revealing something about ourselves, we work towards a world in which people understand each other better and misunderstandings become less common. By taking responsibility for your own needs and by communicating them openly, it will be possible to mutually grow on a deeper level and to better understand of your own feelings and the feelings of others.
I’m not suggesting doing whatever you want without considering others, but to find solutions together that everybody agrees on. You can do this while showing sympathy for the problems of others and without putting your own problems in the spotlight.
You are not as nice as you think you are!
Do you agree with me? Do you see some of my theses differently? Or mayhaps you think that I am completely wrong?