For a while, and until quite recently, actually, I hated being called nice. At family functions, relatives would lionize me for being a ‘nice, responsible’ child, at school, my report card always said ‘sincere’ and then at college, ‘oh, she’s nice’. It became a staple of my existence. What bothered me about it though, was seeing my niceness being taken as an expectation. People assumed I would be nice. They expected me to be more responsible. They expected me to be more caring. They expected me to want to always be nice. India, or America, this expectation never left me.
‘Nice’ became a standard that people simply expected, in all situations. Relationships, academics, arguments, eve-teasing and even debates. If I wasn’t nice, I was aggressive.
If even for a minute I stopped being someone else’s idea of nice, then I was subjected to a torrent of shaming and insults. So, two years ago, I abandoned being ‘nice’. I gave in, without realizing, to the stupidity of the dichotomy that our society loves so much. For two years I forgot, that I am, complete within myself. That boxes, don’t apply to me. I got so overwhelmed by the jejune duality of people’s categories, that I figured the best way to break out of the ‘nice’ box, was to not be nice.
But the problem was, that I AM nice. I enjoy being nice. I enjoy seeing the best of a situation and a person. I enjoy being with people who are nice. I really do. And so, it was only natural that I was so conflicted.
Yes, I was (and still am) nice, but that’s not it. I am nice, but I am also agrumentative, ambitious, opinionated and I’d very much like to be all of it.
Then it came to me, as it always does, on a warm evening this summer. One of my characteristics had been reduced to an obvious gender role.
Women are encouraged, by society, to be quite, to be ladylike, to be docile and to society, that is a ‘nice girl’. ‘Nice’ is teaching us to silence ourselves and our needs, it’s teaching us to be perfect and to never make mistakes and it’s teaching us to never stand up for what we want.
But that is not being nice. That is being silenced, being stereotyped, being reduced.
Being nice, is a characteristic, which frankly everyone should possess. Being silenced is being denied the right to ask or say what you want to say, being silenced is being expected to be a certain way and to never break away from the mold. Being stereotyped, is being placed in a certain category that others think you represent or suits you best. Being reduced, is when all you are is a silenced stereotype.
And it’s strange how many ways people can find to hold ‘being nice’ against you.
Second Year College – “Oh you’re a feminist? But, you’re so nice!”
First Date with Mutual Friend – “I have another Indian friend, but she’s not as nice as you. Aren’t all Indian girls suppose to be like you? You know, nice and stuff.”
Family Functions – “No, no, she’s a nice girl. She doesn’t do stuff like that” (They were talking about dating, little did they know)
Anyway, I decided to follow my own advice, and continue doing what I do. Continue being nice. Many times though, it’s still hard to be nice, and have people realize that it’s JUST a characteristic of your being. But I guess that’s what happens when we live in a world obsessed with reducing an entire being to mental tick marks.
So, no matter what one chooses, what one is, who one is, they will be shamed for it. And I’d rather be shamed for everything I am, than anything I’m not.
Because for me, in the end, being nice is a choice. And choice is always a good thing.