I know the title sounds strange, but hopefully, the content makes sense.
Honestly, I write things that I’m afraid of so often, but it always shocks me when I receive the feedback of people who can relate but not articulate. I never know when it will happen, but I post my distins, try to be as genuine as possible, and allow what happens to happen.
So I have a problem with nice people. Several problems, actually. And it makes all the sense in the world to me, how repulsive nice people can be. Don’t get me wrong, it’s not a sin to be nice or generous or have genuine concern for human beings other than yourself. But you have to admit that there is a point at which a perpetual smile starts to make people wonder how your facial muscles aren’t screaming at you to let them rest for at least five minutes.
There are several people I have gotten tired of lately, because they are just too nice. In my previous blog post, I called some people “too nice and too happy to be real” and I meant exactly what I said. They ask all the nice, polite questions, and give all the nice, polite answers, and you wonder if they are really that simple – if they have a limited range of all the natural human emotions or maybe just an imbalance in favor of the cheerful spectrum – or they are merely pre-programmed robots in humanoid costumes.
When college first started, I was kind of okay with it. It was natural to be nervous around all these new people; it would take a while for folks to ease into being themselves, I assumed. But as I eased back into my comfortably private-to-the-point-of-seeming-rude and moderately savage (at least in my opinion; others seem to think I’m a ruthless beast) self, I realized that a lot of the nice people were still too damn nice. Wozzop?
The thing about being so nice is that I can’t freaking talk to you. It’s not just that I’m not used to it; it’s that I don’t even want to get used to it. And it’s not that I admire deliberately or even unconsciously rude people either; it’s just that I need an actual personality to show before I start feeling comfortable around you. I hate small talk, and I think it is an unnecessary waste of time and energy. However, if you are going to tell me of an interesting, funny or shocking personal experience and I have time and care, I won’t object. But I get exhausted of being asked how my day was, and even in my less depressive moods, “How have you been?” has the power to agitate me. For people who actually know me and are trying to genuinely keep up, the question of what my summer plans are is not burdensome. For everyone else, it feels like you are reaching into a pit that would be perfectly fine if left alone to find something to talk about to someone whom you can’t see might not even want to talk at all.
I am not a nice person. I do not say this as an insult to myself, and the acknowledgement of this fact is separate from the acknowledgement of my obvious flaws which I have to work on. My not-niceness is me being comfortable and relaxed in myself. I throw the question “how are you/how’ve you been?” around extra-sparsely. I don’t ask it of everyone I meet; I only ask when I like you and have time to listen to the answer. Sometimes, I slip and fall into the sinking sand of the pretentious politeness of obligation – but then I feel like crap afterwards because as soon as it slips from my mouth, I know I don’t really care. It’s not really something to feel guilty about; people have friends closer to them who will care more, and I care more about my friends than other people will etc. But forcing social intimacy where it doesn’t exist really no dey hia. This thing that I do where I hold off from asking generic questions is not what I consider rudeness; I consider it treating others how I want to be treated, and isn’t that the golden rule?
I realize that some people might have differing opinions on all of this, which is fine. I still feel that a lot of us are too locked in the expectations and obligations of culture, but I would love it if people prioritized being real over being nice. Ironically, maybe, I think it would make the world a better place. So I start with myself. Once again: this does not encourage people turning into vile human beings because Akotowaa said nice people are whatever. All I am trying to do is push forward the idea of relaxing into being yourself, not to try to act like you have to be extra-super-smiley-nice to everyone as if, if you don’t do it, you’re going to hell or something.
Speaking of which, the Christians are a problem. [Disclaimer: this is not to state that a belief in Jesus Christ as one’s Lord and personal Savior automatically makes one a problematic human being in Akotowaa’s eyes. Akotowaa herself is a Christian, so…] I have realized that the whole niceness thing is an aspect of the Christian college community, at least where I am, that acts as a repulsive force on me, which seems rather counter-intuitive. Isn’t niceness supposed to attract? In this matter, at least, I know I am not alone in my discomfort amidst all the niceness. I know of others (believers included) who have been driven away – and it’s such a weird problem that it’s nearly impossible to know how to approach it.
I met a senior in the Christian fellowship (whom I suspect will read this eventually – if she does, congratulations once more on your graduation!) who, in a conversation with me, called my year-mates in the fellowship nice, and she said it almost with a grimace, like it was an uncomfortable quality to have. LOL, I tell you, I felt like I’d never related more with anyone in college until that point. She also gave me hope, though, by being a senior who was both real enough to talk to, and still Christian and part of the community. Talking to her gave me hope because she was evidence that it can be done at all.
A week after this conversation, I really felt like I’d had it with all the niceness. It was a Friday night and the worship team was rehearsing, and I was sitting outside in a pretty bad mood for some reason I now cannot remember. Beside me was a woman who was interning with the fellowship’s parent organization, slightly older, who had graduated university elsewhere already. I think she asked me what was up or something, and I must have given vague reply like, “I’m not in the best of moods today.” And she said something like, “Tell me more about you not being in the best of moods today” or some other request that began with “tell me more” and I legit got so mad I surprised even myself by my internal reaction. In hindsight, it seems very silly that a mere phrase could send me off. But I know it was a cumulative reaction.
“Why do you do that?” I asked, frustrated. “Why can’t you just ask me “why” and be straightforward?” I was irritated because “tell me more” sounded like a rehearsed phrase, like something an interviewer would say to a potential employee or client, maybe even a psychotherapist to a patient, but in my mind, that was not how ordinary conversation worked. I felt like I could sense it in the nature of her response, too, how measured and carefully the sentence had been processed before it came out. It was not a heartbeat reaction, and that annoyed me.
She told me “why” sounded confrontational, and I think she had taken, like, a leadership or team building seminar or training session that had involved teaching people to phrase questions this way instead. Or something. (Lots of “or”s, I’m sorry, but I don’t want to say something with certianty and be wrong.) I was having none of it. I had been exhausted of all of everyone’s freaking carefulness since college started. Atmospheres tended to feel overly fragile in certain rooms with certain people in certain contexts – as if a wrong word from anyone would shatter something invisible but precious. The whole “tell me more” thing was just one more drop in the cup of j’ai en marre. I wanted to talk to people in ways that didn’t make everything feel like fine china.
Now it appears to me that several people who self-identify as introverts do not seem to agree on what exactly an introvert is. I don’t know who it was that gave me the statistics at the beginning of the academic year, but someone told me something like “about 70% of the Christian fellowship members are introverts.” I’m like, oh, okay, cool, maybe I can be comfortable here. But when, after the actual fellowships, nearly everyone hung around snacking and chatting about nothing in particular for about an hour, I started getting confused. I can barely last ten minutes before I start getting overwhelming urges to run away and be alone. And the culture is such that I hardly ever feel safe to just get up and go – not without having to explain myself or being asked to do so, or coming up with an excuse to leave; a better one than “I don’t like people,” which I have said often enough anyway. I’m just not sure if people actually believe me. Maybe I’m just introverted and antisocial, although I don’t think this is true.
A general culture of niceness tends to start feeling claustrophobic because it doesn’t give people enough space. I want to be able to miss an event or not sign up for an activity, for instance, without a bunch of people blowing up my texts or Facebook messages with niceness or even at all. Of course, it doesn’t feel like “blowing up” to those on the sending end. But if, for example, ten people each independently send one text, at the end of the day, you’ve still received ten text messages, and that can feel overwhelming. I mean, it’s nice to know that people care. But I don’t have a lot of friends, so chances are, if you care (or feel obliged to care), but I’m not close to you, opening up or even responding sometimes feels like a burden I don’t want to have to deal with. I don’t even know how much of this makes sense. All I know is that somewhere along the semester, I turned off all my phone notifications, except those that require my Ghanaian phone number, which most people who didn’t know me in Ghana do not have. And that was pretty liberating. I think I’ll turn them back on again soon, now that school is over.
Anyway, I would like to conclude by mentioning that I have actually heard testimonies from people of how the niceness of the very same communities that I have tension with has created loving and welcoming new social and spiritual environments for them to dwell in. I acknowledge that my sentiments, although valid, are personal, and that different things work for different people.
Now, after publishing this, the part that I am not looking forward to: people wondering, after reading, if they are part of the “nice” population that I’m so apparently agitated about. Sigh. It’s like whenever I post on my blog or on Facebook, at least one person will come and apologize for something they didn’t do. Chill, please. Please chill.