A while back, I got a call from a shopping website I often buy from. Usually, I exit such calls as soon and as politely as possible, but the caller expressed concern in great detail over a review I had written about an item I’d purchased. This was refreshing, at least in my experience, because it made the interaction personal and yet valid and professional. I was surprised at how inquisitive he was about some of the minor issues I had had with their products over the years. By the end of it, it was upto me to tell him to accept that positive feedback can also be a good thing, and help a company grow. Not every customer interaction has to be a complaint, and if a customer is actually taking the time to praise the service you provide, you should gracefully accept it. He was more surprised than me, for what was to be a simple customer care call turned out to be a philosophical argument on the dying art of being nice to people. Really, why is that so hard to be?
I do have some default settings in my personality that require me to be polite. First of all, I avoid confrontations as much as I can. I can’t handle it, I’d rather hide under a table than deal with even a mildly tense situation. Obviously, that doesn’t help much in making something out of my time in this world, but that’s the way it is. Secondly, I was raised to be that way. Any unpleasant behaviour wherever I went was frowned upon, no matter who did it. I learnt to say ‘Thank You’ too many times perhaps, instead of not at all. Even if I am a woman, I was taught to leave my seat for someone elderly irrespective of gender, to open doors for people etc.
Obviously, I am not saying that all such mannered behaviour makes me a better person morally. Such behaviours can often be passive aggressive, manipulative and affected. I do them genuinely 90% of the time, but there is the quite solid 10% when I want to express anger or frustration, but I can’t. Even if it is never anger, it is often sarcasm, which some even enjoy if it is done in a playful, teasing manner. But, I don’t make a career out of it, and I keep to being, or at least trying to be, nice all the time. Whether it seems genuine or a little too people-pleasing, you be the judge (but don’t tell me about it, because it is rather unpleasant to know). As I’ve said before, I have no interest in being a saint. I’d very much like to make it as a human being. And I believe ‘making it‘ in that department requires being nice to people, and pointing out what they do right.
Therefore, it completely baffles me when people are either too shocked to say anything when receiving positive behaviour from strangers, or are too cynical to buy it. I didn’t even need to please the company in the afore-mentioned case, I genuinely love their products. I’ve enjoyed seeing them grow over the years, and I’ve seen the hard work they put in. Have we really grown to be so indifferent that even in our consumerist affairs, we don’t actually care who we buy things from unless they do something wrong? Is it that we expect nice behaviour too much, but don’t make enough of an effort to do it ourselves?
I know all this sounds terribly sanctimonious. And maybe, that’s it. Maybe you can’t even talk about being nice without being thought of as preachy. Maybe, we appreciate ill-mannered behaviour because that is less likely to be fabricated. Everyone loves to watch a good fight, because anger seems to be the last publicly demonstrable passion. It is enticing, no doubt. There is great conviction in it, it makes you feel powerful, and you don’t even have to care what anyone thinks while you do it. The damage it caused maybe irreparable, but the sensations you felt were things that maybe get suppressed too much at other times. But, that doesn’t make it a desirable outlet, because we hardly have the courage to be angry at people who intimidate us. Anger, or even a mild form of rudeness is always the result of a pre-determined, highly-skewed power relationship. That is why it is often misdirected, because we hardly have the courage to let it out directly on who caused it. I guess, the question ultimately isn’t why aren’t we more nice to people, but why are we so rude.
I would love to be more blunt, more often. But, I can’t bear the thought of making anybody miserable, even unconsciously, which I’m sure I must do. But, there is absolutely nothing wrong with telling people they’re doing something right. If you love someone, tell them. If someone packs a meal for you, say ‘thank you’. If a woman accidentally steps on your toe in the train, accept her apology and don’t lash out on her, because your boss was beastly to you yesterday. Even though it is enormously uncool, hypocritical, and a real chore, be nice. It is so much easier, and better for your blood pressure, than being nasty.
Do you think being nice is a dying art?