I read the other day about the difference between being nice and being kind. Whereas kindness comes from a place of inner compassion, it can and should be taught, niceness may spring from a desire to please others, even if it’s at our own expense.
I’m a naturally kind person, but I have to admit, I’m not very nice. And I don’t intend to be. Especially in situations that are not completely clear to me, or when I’m suspicious about something or someone. I used to be nicer in the past – or at least I tried – but with time I’ve been confronted with situations that demanded more from me.
More than niceness: a gut instinct.
Many women experience this feeling, this sense of sudden confidence only when they become mothers, for the sake of protection. Too bad they only realize they have it because of their children, not for themselves. Maybe because society tells us if we’re standing up for ourselves we’re selfish.
How poetic it is when a mother defends her child, but how selfish it is when a woman is not so nice because she feels unsafe.
From abusive or inappropriate approaches in the street or public transportation, to rude or sexist coworkers, the scenarios were many. Thankfully, my gut instinct showed up when I needed it, whenever I felt endangered, attacked, unsafe or uncomfortable. I began to prioritize my feelings.
Instead of teaching our girls (and boys for that matter) to be nice, writes Shefali Tsabary, clinical psychologist and author of The Awakened Family, we should teach them how to be themselves, to be self-aware, “which means self-directed, self-governed, true to themselves.”
How many girls you know or have heard stories of, have carried their feelings, embarrassment or shame in silence, instead of letting people know that they had been inappropriately approached, touched or mistreated?
Girls who didn’t want to be inconvenient, girls who wanted to be nice, because that was probably the most heard word in their childhood. I can’t remember how many times my mother told me I had to be nicer!
Niceness won’t keep us safe. It never kept me safe. One in three women worldwide experience physical, sexual, or emotional violence in her lifetime; one in five experience rape or attempted rape, according to Amnesty International.
So yeah, if I encounter someone who makes me uncomfortable, I won’t be nice. I may be thrown stones at the next minute, but at least I’m standing up for myself. If things don’t feel right, it’s because they probably aren’t.
If I do not agree with something, if I think it’s worth it, I will speak up. I will let everyone know that my smile isn’t there as mere adornment, as pretty as it can be. My smile can vanish whenever I feel like it, even if you tell me I should “smile more”, as I have been told in a professional setting (you guessed it, by a man).
We need to teach girls to trust their instincts.
Encouraging girls to smile, to be sweet and pleasant may get them a good number of high school boyfriends, but the fact is “well-behaved women seldom make history”. Confident, kind women, who defy the convention that females should be pretty and sweet all the time, often make history.
But like Madonna said, “I wouldn’t have turned out the way I was if I didn’t have all those old-fashioned values to rebel against.”
And if politely won’t do, gutsy will.