THAT’S NOT VERY NICE. I’m starting this post with a new attitude. I realize that many of my past posts, which are, let’s face it, pep talks to myself, often end up with a blanket “this should apply to everyone” missive. And no, it shouldn’t. I’m speaking to a specific subset of people. And I’m not Epictetus or Marcus Aurealis; I’m not in a position of authority (or experience) to throw out philosophy like one of the masters. So let’s say, going forward, everything I say is based solely on my experience. And yes, it’s me talking to myself with the hope knowledge that there is a subset of people who will benefit and be interested–at their own risk. :)
I read this article on Psychology Today that’s intriguing because of how much I’ve struggled with the cultural chasm between the way I was raised in the Midwest and the way I grew up in New York.
It has to do with the idea of being “nice.” Nice at all costs. Never upsetting the apple cart, never say what’s on your mind if it’s going to hurt someone. I also grew up “knowing”, like everyone else, that New Yorkers were rude. Impatient. And holier-than-thou in their sense of importance and busyness.
So let’s go back to 2006, when I first landed in Brooklyn and started dealing with the locals. Or at least people who’d been a transport longer than I had. They were brash. They talked too fast. They did drugs. And they asked questions as soon as they met someone that I’d always been told not to ask. What someone’s ethnicity is and even sometimes why. Where they originally come from (and why). What they do for a living (and why)…I mean this was prying. Right? You waited until they offered this information on their own time, like three weeks into the relationship. Otherwise this was opening up a can of worms that could force someone to talk about something they were embarrassed about or sensitive to. You might be forcing them to lie (oh, that’s bad!) or worse, you might be implying the two of you aren’t the same, and Jesus would definitely not like that.
This was only the first of many culture shocks, but it may be the most emotionally jarring and significant. Because even though I thought people were “rude” in the beginning. (In spite of being a Midwest bitch to begin with) I slowly started to come around to their way of thinking. Was I just trying to fit in? Or had I been utterly corrupted? No. Not all. I’d been forced (against my will) to see the light.
It took coming back to MI as an adult to understand.
REVERSE CULTURE SHOCK
Back in the flyover state, I saw a lot of highly sensitive individuals whose sensitivity had been heightened by a lifetime of being coddled and coddling one another. As such these people were in a state of constant fear. Fear of offending, and fear of being offended. Fear of being hurt. Fear of being outside their comfort zone. I realized I’d once been one of them.
I saw people who were scared to death to be by themselves, who clung tightly to any people they could and were familiar with, whether they were the best people for them or not. I realized I’d done the same in those Brooklyn years.
And when they tried to coddle me and kiss my ass, I realized that I was supposed to do the same to them. That was the bargain you made. Over and over again. So that offering support and praise wasn’t about the person you were praising it was about getting approval and an unspoken agreement that they would do the same for you. And that became this burden I never knew I’d carried around with me, and had let go (eventually) in New York. A burden I didn’t exactly want to pick up again.
I saw some people living these sort of miserable, meaningless lives led around by their fears and the burden of “being nice.” I saw people who were at their core depressed but because everyone around them was just so damn nice felt they couldn’t be honest about how they were feeling and so perpetuated a centuries long cycle of emotional repression, which inevitably leads to…
A shit ton of passive aggression. I realized this was how I’d been raised to express myself, too. In code. So as to minimize offense as much as possible and also protect my own ring of uber sensitivity.
Nice is…not always the nicest way to go about living life. I found. And when someone tells you the truth about how much you suck (and we all do in one way or another) they really are doing a favor. Not just to you (who sucks) but for themselves, too (who also sucks). Maybe the delivery isn’t so great, maybe it could in fact have more compassion but imho it’s better to hear the truth, any way, than not hear it at all.
As a sort of random aside, I’ve been thinking a lot about raising kids. Even though I don’t feel having children is a personal priority, I wonder (if I did) what would be best for them? And I have to say, raising them in an environment that forces one to be nice, all the time, no matter what, by being surrounded by so many smiling faces isn’t my ideal. I’d want better for them.
Originally published at itsaculturething.com.