Think about this one before responding with a knee-jerk reaction − it’s not an easy question: Which quality would you like to impart to your child − how to be a nice person, or how to be a successful one?
In response, you’ll probably wonder if the two are necessarily mutually exclusive. Are they ever?
We define a nice person as someone who cares about others and is sensitive to their feelings. We’ve all met these sorts of individuals. These are the people who are selfless, seeing beyond their own wishes and putting the needs of others before their own. These are the people we love to be around.
On the other hand, we identify successful people as those who assert themselves to ensure that their personal goals are being met, irrespective of the needs, wishes or opinions of others. We’ve all met these types of individuals who guiltlessly step on anyone who gets in the way of their climb up their proverbial career or social ladders. These are the types whom we try to avoid − at all costs, but who, nevertheless, seem to be getting what they want out of life.
So, can the two co-exist?
Ideally, we’d all like to teach our children how to be accommodating to the perspectives of others. We’d like to teach them how to share their toys, their time on the swing and their snacks. We like to view ourselves, too, as considerate people who willingly give up our seat to the elderly or handicapped, who generously toss a few coins to the outstretched arms of a homeless indigent and who support the neighbourhood PTA. We value talking politely and criticizing sparingly. Until that is, we have a run-in with someone who so blithely takes advantage of our good heartedness.
Ever had a situation where you are being neglectful to yourself (or your family) by tending to the whims of fussy Uncle Ben, critical cousin Sally and selfish neighbor Rhonda? Are you being considerate − or a wimp − by being a ‘”yes man” to your boss’s opinions or by kowtowing to your tyrannical co-worker’s quirks?
There are times when decidedly un-nice behaviour is the best response. Our traditions give the wise advice: “With a sly person, be sly.” To achieve the greater goal, the correct response may be to deal deceitfully − or arrogantly, or selfishly, or sternly − with a person who only understands that negative language. With people who can’t see beyond the little circle of their ego, ask yourself, is being nice the correct approach or will a more stern method ultimately achieve the greater good?
How do you draw the line?
Maybe the answer lies in evaluating our motives.
Ask yourself, “Why be nice?” Do you believe this is the right way to approach life? Or do you just want to be thought of as a nice person? Do you genuinely believe that your child should share the coveted park’s swing with others, or is it your fear that he will be labelled as the ill-mannered bully? Why are you giving a rubber stamp approval to your friend or co-worker? Is it because you agree with what s/he is doing, or are you reluctant to appear disagreeable? Why are you generously offering your time and energy to others − do you want to be considered kind, or do you genuinely believe in the cause?
Perhaps the key is developing an inner strength.
Let’s impart to our children − and demonstrate to ourselves − the backbone to stand strong, whether that means having the courage to act with kindness and sensitivity (which should always be our default) or to act with deceitful slyness or gruff sternness to those that only understand that language − to achieve the best outcome.
Some of the most self-centered people look strong on the outside, but are weak within, completely incapable of overcoming their personal biases and whims. And some of the nicest, kindest people may seem weak on the outside but have the steely determination within − to do the right thing. Whether that means saying an accommodating, sweet “Yes” (in most cases) or an unkind, stiff “No.” Not because they are affected by how others will view them, but by how their Creator does.
What do YOU think? When is it time to stop being nice?
Watch Chana Weisberg’s two-minute videocast on www.chabad.org/intouchfor your dose of weekly inspiration. Chana Weisberg is the author of several books, including Divine Whispers − Stories that Speak to the Heart and Soul and Tending the Garden: The Unique Gifts of the Jewish Woman. She is an international inspirational lecturer on a wide array of topics and an editor at chabad.org. She can be reached at email@example.com.
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