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by Jayne Johnson

One of the elements of life is BEING “NICE”

nice adj. nic·er, nic·est

  1. Pleasing and agreeable in nature: had a nice time.
  2. Having a pleasant or attractive appearance: a nice dress; a nice face.
  3. Exhibiting courtesy and politeness: a nice gesture.
  4. Of good character and reputation; respectable.
  5. Overdelicate or fastidious; fussy.
  6. Showing or requiring great precision or sensitive discernment; subtle: a nice distinction; a nice sense of style.
  7. Done with delicacy and skill: a nice bit of craft.
  8. Used as an intensive with and: nice and warm.

[Middle English, foolish, from Old French, from Latin nescius, ignorant, from nescre, to be ignorant ; see nescience.]
–excerpted from The American Heritage® Dictionary of the English Language, Fourth Edition.

If you have read the article on my web site, “Enrich Your Vocabulary and Your Life!”, you know that I have always found it fascinating, as well as educational, to look up words in a dictionary.

In deciding to write about being “nice,” I naturally started by looking up the word “nice,” and as so often happens, I was absolutely amazed when I read the etymology of the word:

Middle English, foolish, from Old French, from Latin nescius, ignorant, from nescre, to be ignorant ; see nescience.

At the root of the word nice we find the concepts of ignorance and not knowing, and in a very interesting way, it is applicable to this article.


Being nice, as defined in the dictionary, is not the subject of this article.

This article addresses the concept of being “nice,” with the word nice in quotation marks. By that I mean, in the simplest of terms, agreeing to things you don’t really agree with, doing something you don’t want to do, not doing something you do want to do, not telling the truth for fear of hurting someone’s feelings or alienating someone, etc. The basic cause of being “nice” is the fear of what someone else might think of you or, of what you might think of you.

Being “nice” can seem like the easy way out or the diplomatic way out. We can convince ourselves that it does not have a price or that the price is small so we are willing to pay it. “Better to do it (whatever it is) than to be uncomfortable or cause an upset.”

In this sense, being “nice” does relate to ignoring something. We ignore or “not know” the truth, i.e., what is true for us.


Example: Someone invites you to participate in some activity with them. You are tired or busy or for whatever reason, you would prefer not to go. You are faced with a conflict, a dilemma. You appreciate the person and the invitation, but it’s not something you’d like to do at that time. You also don’t want to seem unappreciative or upset them. You have the choice to either be “nice” and accept the invitation, or tell them the truth and hope they understand.

Oddly enough, this new “problem” you have has arisen only because someone you care about has extended a friendly invitation to you. In those situations, there is often a feeling that you don’t really have a choice but that you must, or else “XYZ” will happen, and “XYZ” would be worse – the person could get upset, think you are selfish, you don’t care about them or appreciate them. Rather than face any of that unpleasantness, it can seem easier to be “nice” than to be honest and possibly be uncomfortable.

Actually, both are uncomfortable. It’s just a matter of which uncomfortableness you are more willing to experience.

Example: A friend or family member who has been a great support to you in the past suddenly says or does something that, however subtle, is not supportive. You know without any doubt that what you have perceived is true – whatever was said or done is clearly not supportive and you are hurt by it.

You want to say something to them but it’s difficult to confront. So you think of all the wonderful things they’ve done for you in the past and rationalize your way out of it. The next “logical” step would be to deftly whisk your truth under the carpet and instead of speaking up, you replace the truth with being “nice.”

In both these examples you have a problem – two wants that are polar opposites and conflict with each other – you want to but you don’t want to, and the emotional tug can be painful. Have you ever said to someone, “oh, that’s OK,” when it really wasn’t? It can seem easier than saying what we are really thinking or feeling but ultimately it has the potential to bring everyone down, or worse, destroy relationships.


When you are faced with such a choice, how you respond has as much to do with the other person as it does with you. If that person provides a safe space, that is, a space in which you are not judged or invalidated but instead are accepted for who you are, what you want and what you don’t want, the choice is easy because whichever you choose, you will not be made wrong for it; instead, you will be understood and your personal sovereignty respected. Simply put, when someone is safe to tell anything to, it creates a win/win context.


When faced with any problem, the natural thing to do is to find a solution. Being “nice” can be a very alluring solution, especially if there was a time in the past when it was used and seemed to work.

It worked before so it will work again, and that thought, typically unconscious, often leads to the solution becoming a mechanism, an automatic response, an automatic solution – without your realizing it.

With an automatic solution in place, you don’t even have to think anymore – the automatic solution will think for you. A person with a good, high stack of these automatic solutions becomes much like a robot, who can’t think in the present and is only reacting because the “right” button was pushed.

Pertinent to being “nice,” the solution, in its full wording might be something like, “Be nice, at any price, and all will be well and everyone wins.”

Is that true?

The person who is being “nice” has not told the truth, and on some level, however buried, feels bad; they may also feel resentful about not getting what they wanted, and the concept of “self-sacrifice” can come into the picture.

The recipient of the “being nice solution” has been lied to, and on some level, however buried, they know it, and they also have not gotten what they wanted.

The end result is, no one gets what they really wanted and at the same time, everyone is pretending they did.


The flip-side of being “nice” is the “solution” to openly, bluntly, harshly, sometimes angrily, tell the truth, and feelings are utterly irrelevant. This is another “solution” that people sometimes fall into and is merely the other side of the coin. On one side we have being “nice” and on the flip-side we have being “cruel” or “harsh.”

The Game of Life on planet Earth is based on two’s, two’s that are opposites. Some examples: male/female, right/wrong, good/bad, light/dark, on/off, win/lose, rich/poor, angel/devil.

This idea is far from new and can be found in such ancient works as “The Tao Te Ching,” for example. The Yin/Yang symbol is a graphic representation of this concept.

Some people stay stuck on one side of the coin and are always “nice.” Even in the most aggravating situations, they will be as “nice” as can be. They have no control over this. They are stuck on that side and are compulsively “nice.” They will always sacrifice and will never tell you the truth.

Some people stay on the “harsh” side, and under almost any circumstances, aggravating or otherwise, they are “harsh.” They have no control over this, and their behavior is compulsive also. They are abusive. They use the truth as a weapon.

Most people, not being aware of this duality trap, get caught up in it and flip back and forth between the two sides. Sometimes they are “nice,” and sometimes they are “harsh,” and it’s difficult to predict which side they’re going to be on, at any given moment.

They mean well, try to be good people, and therefore they resist being on either side.

When they are being “nice,” they feel guilty because they’re not telling the truth, so they give themselves a pep talk about being more assertive and then switch to the “harsh” side, come on like gangbusters and chew up anyone in sight. But then they feel guilty for being “harsh” and hurting others, so they switch again, back to the “nice” side. This is a loop they cycle through constantly. It is truly all they can do because, from within the duality, the view offers only two options.


The word “integrity” comes from Latin integritas, soundness, from integer, whole, complete.

From a context of integrity, one which, by definition, is whole and complete, the options are literally infinite. This means ALL choices are available, not just two.

To know this is to recognize fully one’s freedom to choose from an unlimited pool of choices. For example, in certain circumstances, being “nice” might be the kinder choice and therefore the appropriate choice. When you are not stuck in a duality, that option is at least available to you.

On other occasions, the appropriate choice is to speak up and say what is on your mind. Again, being outside and larger than a duality allows you to see and choose clearly.

Everything has its time and place, including being “nice.” By using what you know to consciously determine what is best in any given situation, you are taking responsibility for whatever choice you make, and that is clean. That is integrity in every sense of the word.