A few years ago we had a heatwave in London - really hot, almost 100 degrees. On this particular day I had arrived at class in my trusty VW Beetle with 10 minutes to spare. I left the engine running so I could enjoy a few minutes gathering my thoughts in the coolness of the air conditioning. I am not normally the sort to condone such wanton burning of fosil fuels, but following a fraught morning I felt I deserved a moment of cool peace.
After only a minute or so, a woman walking by rapped on my window. With a start I snapped to attention and cracked the window to see what she wanted. With a friendly smile she asked if I wouldn't mind turning my engine off. I was horrified at having been "caught" in my selfish act, and without hesitating I said, "Of course!" and switched off my car. As she walked away I felt the red rise in my cheeks and I realized how angry I was. But I wan't angry with the busy body, I was mad at myself! My "niceness" had become habitual to the point where I was on people-pleasing autopilot.
Thus began the process of untangling the difference between nice and kind - two very different things. After all, giving robust "feedback" (critcism to some) with kindness can be extremely valuable, whereas niceness just for the sake of it evokes images of the smarmy Eddy Haskel on Leave it to Beaver. (Didn't you just want to punch him?!)
I don't remember where I found the following quote, but I can't resist including it:
"The truth spoken is a gift given. Truth withheld is more than a gift denied, it is an arrow aimed at the heart.Many times I have replayed the scene in the car and imagined what I could have said to that lady - something like, "I'm sure you have your reasons for asking me to turn my engine off, but I have good reasons of my own for keeping it running, and it's really none of your business." (The expression "firm but kind" comes to mind.)
It has been said that "the truth hurts," but the exact opposite is true. No truth is too hurtful, and no lie is harmless. Because every truth opens your heart to another, and every lie separates it.
Yet know this: The way you say your truth can be hurtful. So speak your truth, but soothe your words with peace."
I'm more honest in my interactions these days, and I have discovered that I can do all sorts of "not nice" things without a guilt trip, like saying no to my kids, or letting a waiter know the truth when they ask how the food is. Stepping into my true self may mean that I'm not as nice as I used to be, but, ultimately, I am far kinder, especially to myself.