Albert Einstein said, “common sense is the collection of prejudices acquired by the age of eighteen.” That means that what we automatically think of as sensible is only ‘automatically sensible’ to us because it derives not from experience, logical thought, or emotion but from prejudgments placed in our minds based on how we were raised. Keep that in mind as you read my essay, please….
Suggesting or alleging that someone is fully responsible for an outcome of negative qualities, or “blaming” others is like the air. No matter where you are, from time to time (if not every day) you will hear people saying ‘look at what I did for him’ or ‘look what was done for her’, followed by a reproach–because the person being spoken about apparently didn’t appreciated the good deed–or worse, did something wrong according to the speaker’s opinion. This has always bothered me, because it sounds like the person who received the favored treatment owes something to the party who was generous. My reaction to this, inside, is to feel like, ‘well, why did you do something for that person; was it to gain favor for yourself, or to be generous?’ Similarly, when a person is treated nicely or receives favorable treatment from the world, you can hear others saying something like ‘and look how she wasted that opportunity.’ Neither of these responses are nice; they reflect a lack of understanding, in some cases envy–or worse, jealousy. Keep in mind that people often–if not always–are doing the best that they can–even when they don’t know they could do better.
I feel and believe that being a nice person is not so much about doing nice deeds for others. Although helping and giving are beautiful aspects of friendship, more is required to qualify as “nice”.
Forgoing blame, or offering “forgiveness”, is a great part of being nice. It shows that one is really interested in getting back to the normal state of affairs in a relationship—as long as it is sincere, and not mere appeasement. It shows understanding, and humanity, for you can understand people, you can be kind toward them even when they don’t do things that you think are smart of kind–the logical and empathic reaction because all people do stupid and unkind things from time to time, either by mistake or due to a confluence of events that came from misfortune and ignorance. In other words, blaming people is not only unkind, it is shows a real lack of understanding human beings and nature. So you might say that a big part pof being nice is about awareness and intelligence.
Paying attention deeply when someone is speaking to us, or “listening”, is a requirement, and I don’t just mean allowing someone to talk. By listening, a nice person considers deeply—or at least, adequately—what is being said by another. It also means that baring some cognitive or emotional disorder, the nice person tries to implement behavior that reflects consideration for what the speaker has said. If s/he cannot, s/he at least acknowledges, or validates it—meaning the nice person recognizes that the speaker feels that way. Validation is very important in all relationships, from those of strangers on the street conversing for only a few moments, to those of lovers. It means the nice person says, in effect, ‘I see that you feel that way and that is okay.’ You can always tell when someone’s feelings have not been validated when you hear him or her complain, ‘my boyfriend/girlfriend/friend/mother/father (whomever) keeps doing that!’; in other words, the other person is not paying attention to what is liked or wished for—and doing the opposite.
Telling others how we feel and think, or “expressing ourselves”, is how we learn about people about ourselves. So being a nice person—to me—requires giving and helping and forgiveness, but also requires listening and considerate behavior based on what was heard. And, of course, in order to be a good listener, one has to be involved with people who express themselves on the same level we are used to–or we have to spend extra time and effort trying to understand them. It helps no one if a person is the silent type—expecting others to “know” him or her so well that nothing is said about his or her feelings. This is especially a problem with taciturn people, or with people from other cultures whose ways of communication may involve expecting a lot of guesswork or reliance on assumptions built into cultural norms. However, we should waste no time in blaming taciturn folks; understanding them only helps the situation.
Respecting People’s Space
Showing mindfulness toward other peoples’ boundaries, or “respecting someone’s space” is something I didn’t intend to include here (though it is important), because it is automatic and fundamentally natural if one is listening to and honoring what another has said (which I mentioned above). You cannot respect a person’s space if you do not listen to him or her, nor if that person doesn’t communicate his or her boundaries. Of course some forms of respect are generally basic across many cultures, but some boundaries are different and unknown to us because they are personal, familial, regional, or relationship-specific. If one is communicating and another is listening–and then, finally, the other is behaving according to what was communicated—then, respect for space and boundaries is a given.
So, don’t expect people to think you are nice if you simply do nice things for them; you have to listen to people, understand people, validate and honor what they say—within reason of course.
It was a big shock to me when a girlfriend once said ‘I don’t like a lot of messages’, partially because I was sending too many—however, this was also a result of her indulging me for quite some time, and even rewarding my loquaciousness. That is more a case of poor communication, than lack of consideration—because people interpret the meaning of things differently, and they cannot expect others to know that their feelings about things have changed without saying something about those changed feelings.
Sharing your experiences and actions by telling the truth, or being “honest”, is important. It is the foundation upon which people may know one another—so therefore it is the most crucial element of friendship and therefore of being nice. Dishonesty around people who trust you is a form of control, and control is not love or friendship; it’s manipulation—because when we do not know what is really happening, what friends and partners are really feeling and thinking, how can we treat them according to what they want, need, and experience? We are living in a false world of misunderstanding about them, and taken too long, we become their playthings—accidentally or deliberately. This is why people will say, ‘don’t play with me!’ It is also why people in America say, “keepin’ it real.” Real is honest. People don’t want to be manipulated. Manipulation is for things, not beings such as people. People must treat people as people. That makes them nice.
Copyright © 2015 Carl Atteniese Jr., AKA ‘Mando’, All rights reserved.