Is it always good to be nice?

“Be nice!” – that’s something a kid hears a lot. Since early on we are expected to be nice to others, meaning at least: be friendly, share and help the ones in need. “She is a nice person!” – that is supposed to be a compliment. “That’s so nice of you!” – is meant as a sincere “thank you”. However, what is “nice”? Moreover, is it always good to be nice? Let’s discuss.

I actually got to thinking about this subject after I came across an article mentioning ruinous empathy. Ruinous empathy? – I thought – how can that be? For me, empathy is an essential and positive skill. How can it be ruinous? What does it mean? So I did a quick Google search and discovered that such thing indeed exists, yet in fact has little to do with actual empathy. We talk about it in a situations when a person is not saying what needs to be said, because he or she is desperately trying to be nice in order to protect someone else’s feelings. Let me give you a very simple (even simplistic) example to demonstrate ruinous empathy:

A girl was eating a pizza with spinach and a bit of it got stuck in between her teeth. A friend of hers sees that, but (!) says nothing. He assumes that if he tells her about it, she will be offended, or that she will think bad about him, or whatever the reasoning. So he doesn’t tell anything. That, my friends, is ruinous empathy. A guy in this example was trying to be nice, but what is the result his “nicety” achieved? A girl would eventually see that she had a piece of spinach in between her teeth, realize that not only her friend had seen it, but, perhaps a whole bunch of other people had seen it too… How will she feel then? Uncomfortable at least.

Now, this was an easy example, just to illustrate the concept. However, it equally applies to all situations when it is obvious that something is wrong, yet a person makes an assumption that someone’s feelings can get hurt if it is voiced. Bad service, failed promises, wrong decisions. Any situation which screams for an immediate feedback, yet a feedback is denied just because of the “potentially hurt feelings” factor.

Of course, here also cultural differences play a huge role: what an American or a Dutchman find acceptable, a Chinese or a French could consider very rude… Complicated.

I don’t have an answer what’s best. Personally, I prefer straightforward feedback and being informed, rather than living in an illusion that everything is fine, when it is actually not.

I prefer honesty over nicety.

On the other hand, there is feedback and there is feedback. One can give feedback in a respectful, NICE way; and one can drop in useless accusations or humiliation.

So I guess one needs to be nice in the end… Yet only if “nice” equals honest, respectful and truly empathic. A mental note to myself: never say just: “be nice!” to my kids, but explain what it means!

What do you think: do you believe it’s good to be nice? And how do you understand this term? Feel free to leave a comment below or drop me a line at


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