It’s only polite

Written by on June 11, 2018

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There there, come here and cry on my shoulder. It’ll be okay. Don’t worry about it, it’s bound to get better.  After all, we don’t want to be rude and point out anything that you may be doing wrong, just a quick pat on the back, a word of encouragement, and off we go (thankful we’re not in your shoes).  Now imagine you’re stressed out, having a hard time financially, losing in Life, or definitely no where near performing at the level you should be. How much did that help?

The Dirt: Always be polite

What if we stopped being so polite and started actually being nice to each other?  When did it become more important to pretend to care than to actually care?  In a world where mental toughness is in short supply, being polite has become the norm in order to function in our relationships.  This doesn’t necessarily make it better for any of us as we tiptoe around the truth and dance around directness. What’s most unfortunate is that in our desperation to be polite, we are not only not nice, but often hurtful to those in ways we cannot comprehend.

“There’s no one solution in being nice, but there are a bunch of non-solutions in being polite”

What’s the difference between polite and nice?  The word polite is from latin meaning to smooth over or polish.  It’s a superficial pleasantness that says nothing about what lies underneath.  Politeness only requires the appearance of nicety. Whether or not what we do is truly nice for another person is irrelevant for politeness to be achieved.  

Being nice, for our purposes here, refers to doing something that helps another person.  This does not require being polite, rather necessitates only that the intention and results focus on truly helping another.  This doesn’t exclude politeness by any means. In fact, if we can be both nice and polite, even better, like holding open a door for someone else.  But when the two butt heads, we have choice between pretending to help and actually helping. Considering the etymology here, isn’t it a bit selfish to put your interactions with another person ahead of actually helping them?

Being polite is letting your relative continue to over drink and smoke, destroying themselves. Being nice is at least waking them up to the fact that they’re doing it and offering some help.  

Being polite is letting your future client think about it, when you know it’s the right thing for them and that they’ll put it off forever. Being nice is having enough assertion to make sure they take care of themselves and their family in the proper way.

Being polite is letting your friend cry on your shoulder and furthering their pity party by letting them feel sorry for themselves. Being nice is letting them get a good cry in, but then giving them a kick in the ass making sure they know they’re worth more than they think and helping them go out there and get it.

Politeness (without being nice) can have the undesired effect of exacerbating a problem.  Like being an accomplice to a crime, we not only allow someone to continue bad actions / poor choices but actually condone and strengthen those actions through a complicit silence or some consoling words.  Consider someone in an abusive relationship where the neighbors look the other way. It’s certainly polite to mind their own business but in no way is that nice to the abused. If an abuser sees that their actions are not condemned, it’s almost like receiving a silent approval and a perverse empowerment over the abused.

Being nice (with or without politeness) however, can solve a problem.  It’s the reality check that we all need at some point, the honest feedback that helps us change ourselves.  As long as it’s coming from a place of love (not envy, jealousy, hate, etc.), then we know deep down that it could be one of the nicest things anyone’s ever done for us.  

Consider a person in financial woes (most of the U.S., unfortunately.)  We can be polite and console them with such laudable phrases like ‘Money’s not that important” or “Money can’t make you happy”.  It might make them feel better about being broke, but it won’t help them long-term when the rent and taxes are due. What if we could share some successes we’ve had with money or point them in the direction of someone else who can possibly give them some good advice?  If we’re in the same boat, perhaps buddy-up and go find some answers and start a plan together on how to get out of a financial mess. There’s no one solution in being nice, but there are a bunch of non-solutions in being polite.

One disclaimer:  This is not a suggestion or license to be brutally honest with everyone you ever meet.  Start with those closest to you who you care about. No need to tell strangers “how it is” or be rude for the sake of being rude.  At the same time, don’t watch your parents/kids/sister/brother destroy themselves for 30 years before you speak your concern.

Thoughts on being nice in a (mostly) polite way

  1. Sit down and talk.  No phones, no distractions.  If they want to talk, great. If not, let them know there is something on your mind and you’d like to discuss it with them.  Either way, the problem should be agreed upon before continuing.
  2. Listen first.  Once the topic is out in the open, listen.  Nothing will shoot down a conversation than to fix their problem before you hear the problem.  Give them a chance first to share the problem.
  3. Ask them how you could help.  Let them come up with a solution first.  They may actually need you to help solve the problem and not just a comforting hand.
  4. Agree to help if at all possible.  If you cannot, let them know up front.  Don’t be polite and “see what you can do”.  Be honest and direct so as not to set false expectations.  If you can help in that way, then do so.
  5. Offer an alternate solution tradeoff -one based on truly solving the problem –  if theirs isn’t. I’ll do this for you if you can do this for me. Let them know you care and you want to help them out of the situation
  6. Accountability.  You hold your part of the bargain and expect them to hold theirs.  If they don’t, there must be consequences. You can’t force someone to help themselves, but you have 100% control over how your interact with this person moving forward.

The good news is that we can still be polite but not at the expense of being nice.  Imagine trading off being polite today for the nicety of someone’s long-term benefit, especially if doing so would develop a level of gratitude from others often reserved for priests and doctors.   How would that feel to have such an impact? What if you can then spend the rest of your days hugging and kissing them out of joy and not out of sorrow?

“Choose being kind over being right and you’ll be right every time.”

–Richard Carlson, author

I appreciate you for taking time to think.  I hope you got something beneficial to your life.  I dare you to share this with eight people you know could use some courage in dealing with a loved one.  As always, I’ll meet you at the top because the bottom’s getting immensely crowded.

Josh Zepess


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