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The problem with ‘nice’

Laura Peppas

There’s a quote doing the rounds on Instagram at the moment that has always bothered me, but I was never sure why until now.

“Always be nice and smile at everyone. You never know what they’re going through.”

It’s not the ‘you never know what someone’s going through’ quote that rubbed me the wrong way – that’s a good sentiment. It’s the other part.

From a young age, women – more so than men – are conditioned to “be nice,” to make others feel comfortable; to not rustle any feathers. It’s in the same kind of realm as when someone on the street tells you to “smile.”

The problem with this is that “agreeable” and “nice” seem to go hand in hand. If you don’t agree with someone, or you show an opinion that differs from theirs, you are at risk of losing that shiny tag of “nice.” Suddenly, you’re “difficult” or “demanding.” 

A recent study by the  Human Resource Management Journal showed women must be nice in order to gain influence at work. It’s not enough to be good at their job – they also have to work at helping colleagues and be kind on top of that.

It reminds me of a quote I recently read in Anna Kendricks’ hilarious autobiography, Scrappy Little Nobody.

“I gave up on being nice. I started putting more value on other qualities instead: passion, bravery, intelligence, practicality, humour, patience, fairness, sensitivity. Those last three might seem like they are covered by “nice,” but make no mistake, they are not. A person who smiles a lot and remembers everyone’s birthday can turn out to be undercover crazy, a compulsive thief, and boring to boot. I don’t put a lot of stock in nice. I’d prefer to be around people who have any of the above qualities over “niceness.”  

Constantly trying to live up to “nice” is exhausting. It is human to err. To have opinions, emotions, to get flustered or frustrated sometimes. To say raw, honest things we might regret later in the heat of the moment. Women are not Stepford-style robots, only ever saying and doing the right thing. Sometimes we stuff up. We make mistakes. And the more we try and “be nice” all the time, smile, and push back against our natural emotions, the more dangerous it is, because we’ll probably always feel like we’ve failed in some way or another.

After reading the first draft of comedian Amy Schumer’s autobiography, The Girl with The Lower Back Tattoo, her publisher told her she came off as too unlikeable, to which she replied, “I’m not trying to be likable.”

“I wear my mistakes like badges of honour, and I celebrate them,” she writes. “They make me human… I’m proud that I labelled myself a flawed, normal human before anyone else did.” 

It’s an attitude we should take on board. 

As humans we have such a broad range of emotions: jealousy, anger, frustration, passion. Why is happiness the only socially acceptable one? Instead, we’re taught to conceal those other emotions, while “nice” has become an outward projection that we’re conditioned to show.

Let’s stop holding “nice” as the be all and end all for women. Couldn’t we be something else? A mixed, flawed bag of passion, happiness, anger, sadness and everything in between? 

Opinion is healthy. So is diversity.  “Nice”, as we know it, doesn’t allow for creativity, debate or growth. It doesn’t allow us to speak out about our issues, which can’t be good for mental health.  

So perhaps it’s best to end with a quote that projects a more realistic view on life, from Dr Suess, no less: “Be who you are and say what you feel, because those who mind don’t matter and those who matter don’t mind.” 


Laura Peppas

Laura Peppas is HerCanberra's senior journalist and communications manager and is the Editor of Unveiled, HerCanberra's wedding magazine. She is enjoying uncovering all that Canberra has to offer, meeting some intriguing locals and working with a pretty awesome bunch of women. Laura has lived in Canberra for most of her life and when she's not writing fervently she enjoys pursuing her passion for travel, reading, online shopping and chai tea. More about the Author

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