It's amazing how far we go to be "nice" to each other in ways that compromise what's best for all concerned. Here's a short tale of how we get it so wrong...
A couple of weeks ago I hired a contractor (let’s call him 'the man') to address a few niggling problems in my house and redecorate a couple of rooms. A nice young lad ('the boy') arrived as part of the crew. We got talking and it turned out he is actually a trained picture framer from a small Eastern European country who has come to Britain to find work. Unfortunately he hasn't been able to find a job in his field.
One day the man came across the boy painting chairs (for peanuts) at an antique store. He recognized his potential and decided to help him get on his feet by hiring him for double the money and finding him an apartment. The boy was very grateful and tried his hardest to do a good job, but the trouble was (and is) he is a terrible decorator!
A few days ago the boy got a job offer at a posh framing gallery. However, he feels indebted to the man for giving him his first break and can't bear to be unkind by telling him he has found a more suitable job. The man is equally stuck, as he has recognized that the boy has no talent as a decorator, but can't bear to fire him, as he now feels responsible for him. They are both trapped in a vicious cycle of being 'nice' to each other rather than being truly kind to themselves.
When Shakespeare wrote, "This above all: to thine own self be true, and it must follow as the night the day, thou canst not then be false to any man" it wasn't just a hollow sentiment. It is at once the simplest yet most complex task of being human. But who are we if we never rise to the challenge of being true to ourselves?
Once, when facing some tough life decisions, a stranger struck up a conversation with me and said, as if reading my mind, "Our greatest challenge in life is to follow our own heart even if it means disappointing others." I try to live by that creed, but often fall short, as it is deeply ingrained in my psyche and in our culture to be on guard against hurting others. I wonder how different my life might be had I been braver and more honest with myself and with others?
Back to the man and the boy. Can the boy bear to follow his heart into an appropriate job and risk disappointing the man? Can the man risk disappointing the boy by releasing him from a job he is not cut out to do? I will watch the drama unfold with bated breath. My hope is that the heart will win, but experience tells me it could go either way.