Niceness does not mean weaknessPosted: January 25, 2012
Whoever said nice guys never win was wrong. At least, that’s what I’m telling myself as I prepare to enter a battle that I really need to win.
But am I too nice to fight? After all, the only fight I’ve ever had was in 1987 and resulted in me getting my ears boxed. I am, by and large, a fairly gentle soul. I try to be kind and thoughtful. I try to put myself in other people’s shoes, however ill-fitting they may feel. I’m generally quite affable, pleasant and jolly. Chirpy even. I enjoy making people laugh. I am, of course, only human. I’m also impatient, stubborn and sometimes grumpy. I say things and do things that I later wish I hadn’t. But I think ‘nice’ is a word quite a few people would use to describe me. So that takes us back to the question about whether I’m too nice.
Well, too nice would suggest that there is something wrong with niceness. It would imply that niceness is something undesirable – a chink in the armour, a flaw in my personality. Maybe I’m some kind of nice doormat for people to step on. Perhaps I’m a wispy bit of wishy-washy niceness that gets pushed aside as the stronger personalities barge past.
I’ve decided in the last couple of days to stop thinking of my niceness as a weakness – something I need to change if I am to become respected and successful. I will recognise that being nice is part of being me, and I’m giving myself permission to accept it, not to fight it.
Niceness is, after all, a good thing. Surely it’s better than being nasty. A nice friend of mine unwittingly confirmed this today when she said:
“My mum always said when I was a little girl that being nice is the most important thing as it makes the world go round.”
Niceness is a strength. If you can still be nice to people every day – even when you feel like you can’t cope, that life has trodden you down and it would be easier if you didn’t have to be you – then that is a sure sign that you are made of strong stuff. You’re a tough nut to crack.
There can, however, be a hidden downside to niceness, and to being a tough nut. A ‘nice’ person is often one who is diligent, reliable, sensitive, has a strong conscience and sense of responsibility – all admirable qualities, but all things that can bring extra stress. Dr Tim Cantopher, in his book Depressive Illness: The Curse of the Strong, says:
“Give a set of stresses to someone who is weak, cynical or lazy and he will quickly give up, so he will never get stressed enough to become ill. A strong person on the other hand, will react to these pressures by trying to overcome them. After all, she has overcome every challenge she has faced in the past through diligence and effort. So she keeps going, absorbing more and more, until, inevitably, symptoms emerge.”
And that’s pretty much a summary of how I ended up with depression. I carried on coping at work, wherever I was working and whatever the demands. I carried on coping at home, in spite of a total of three years of disrupted nights while I adjusted to the challenging world of fatherhood. I was strong. I kept going. But something had to give – and it did.
The fight I mentioned earlier is not a physical fight. I’m not going to enter a boxing ring and pummel someone senseless. I’m not going to get into a street brawl. I am, though, going to be handing out a severe beating to a special someone: Paul Brookes.
“Who is this unfortunate character?” I hear you ask. “What did this chap do to you?”
He’s my twisted alter-ego. My nemesis. The vicious, low-life, power-crazed villain who skulks in my subconscious. And I’ll tell you what he did to me. He brought me down. It wasn’t even a fair fight. There was no ‘Paul Brook in the blue corner, Paul Brookes in the red corner – ding ding, round one’. No, he crept up behind me, pulled a sack over my head and suffocated me. He is my depression – and he deserves what is coming to him.
So what form will this fight take? I’ve thrown pills at Brookes, and he’s been weakened but hasn’t retreated. He was knocked down by my first round of counselling, but had a rest and made an unexpected comeback when he was ready.
A very wise gentleman who lived next door to me when I was a boy once gave me a pen and told me:
“The pen is mightier than the sword.”
Although I mostly write using a computer these days rather than a pen, the message is the same. Words are powerful. I’ve been blogging about depression for a few months now, and each post has, in some small way, punched a small hole in the force field surrounding Brookes.
It’s time to take the fight to the next level. Armed with my own resilient brand of niceness, I will kick Brookes’s backside with the boots of merriment; stab him with the sword of silliness; knock his lights out with the fist of fun; and render him powerless with the shield of pleasantry.
To help me win this duel once and for all, I am going back to my counsellor. And that is what this blog post is really all about, under all the dramatic metaphor. A normal, fairly nice bloke, struggling with an illness, getting some help – and mustering up some extra courage and fire in his belly to try and shut that illness down for good. Begun this war has.