One of the greatest disservices we do to one another as women is that we teach our daughters “to be nice.”
It is not that “be nice” is a bad message. It goes with “be polite,” “be respectful,” etc. The problem happens when we teach our daughters to be nice with the fervour of Moonies at the “weekend retreat” from which no-one ever returns.
The problem is that little girls learn a whole set of rules that are as restrictive and perhaps more damaging that any burqa or religious indoctrination. “Being nice” can end up teaching little girls to deny themselves, to ignore their own needs . . . to feel achievement and satisfaction in putting by always putting others first.
Of course, we want to teach our daughters to be kind but being kind is far different than being nice. “Kind” is about a nature, a governing soul principal that guides everything you do. “Nice” is a learned, superficial worn affect. When someone does something “kind,” we characterize the action as being “nice.” Nice is a choice we make and can be done even when the feelings behind the action does not support it.
When we teach our daughters to be nice at all costs, we are denying them feelings and insight into who they are. We actually force them to “be nice,” even when they do not feel it, and we reward them for their efforts. But there is a cost to women learning to hide their true feelings and masking those feelings with an unfelt overture. We are in fact, teaching our daughters to lie . . . to themselves.
One of the biggest complaints I get when I counsel men, is that the woman they married is not the woman they dated. When I first heard a man say that, my immediate reaction was to dismiss it as simply his individual experience but when I thought about it, I couldn’t ignore the point. When other men made the same observation. Think about it, how many of us have done this on a date:
“What would you like to do this weekend?”
“I don’t know, what would you like to do?”
“No, I asked you, anything at all .. What would you like to do?”
“I don’t know, really I am easy, happy to do anything you want .”
“Seriously I always decide, tell me what you would like for a change.”
“What are the choices?”
“Well, we could go to the fair, or bowling, or out to dinner, or the football game.”
“Really I don’t care, I just like being with you.”
“Well ok then, let’s go to the football game.”
They go to the football game. And every date goes pretty much the same, with the woman “being nice” and insisting she is happy to do what he wants to do. She goes to the game and appears to have a great time. After months of dating and a marriage, he buys her season football tickets for their anniversary, something he considers special, confident she will love them. Imagine his shock when her response is anger, and an outburst insisting she hates football and prefers the ballet and why can’t he ever take her to the ballet?
Of course, I am over-generalizing, but the point is this …
Women are taught to be nice at the expense of understanding themselves. If she wants to play dolls and her friend wants to skip, her mother often steps in and tells her to “be nice” which means, in this situation, skip because the other girl wants to do that. If the goal is always to give into other people our daughters grow up losing themselves. They may not know what they want after 18 years of “be nice,” or they won’t know how to ask for it.
Let’ s teach our daughters honesty. The fact is we feel things. How do we deal with those emotions, in a way that honours the feelings and channels them into understanding for self and others with positive outcomes? So when Susie comes home from school and says she hates Mary Jane cause she laughed at her in class and said she was fat and now all Susie wants to do is smash Mary Jane, we don’t dismiss it with “that’s not a nice thing to say.” Trust me, Susie already knows it is not nice. When we hear her on the phone later planning revenge with some of the other girls, we don’t just caution her with, “Susie .. be nice.”
Susie needs to talk about the way she feels. She needs to sit with her feelings and be supported in that, yes we all feel awful when someone says unkind things about us. She also needs to be helped to understand:
1. What others say or think is not something we can control.
2. What others say or think is not always the truth nor does it reflect what everyone else says or thinks.
3. People are unkind for all kinds of reasons that often have nothing to do with us. Often what they say tells us far more about who they are than it says anything about the person they are disparaging.
4. Responding in kind feeds the problem and makes it bigger.
5. You can control yourself and what you do and within THAT lies the power to change how it impacts you.
Those are empowering messages. They are helpful to her, to the other parties, and to the community. Asking how she wants to handle it is far more supportive than telling her she has to go back to school and “be nice,” the emotional equivalent of “please lie down in front of the bus when you see it coming and let it drive over you again and again.”
Asking her to refrain from doing anything mean in response is perfectly legit. But empowering her to step back from interaction with, or helping her to find the words to say if it happens again, these are important steps for all women. Each of us chooses to deal with situations in different ways, depending on the circumstances. We need to be empowered to do that and empowerment has to start with children.
We need to celebrate who we are and what we enjoy and love. To be given messages that whatever that is – is perfect. That way, when we date and meet others we can say,” no thank you,” when we get asked to the football games we hate. We can let someone know, “I actually prefer the ballet.” It gives us the confidence to find people we are compatible with and if we do that we have a chance to find good friends, wonderful lovers, and husbands. We are giving our daughters a chance to be happy.
We can turn so many things around and make them different for our daughters. Blaming society is pointless when you consider WE are society. Society succeeds when every member does their part with their individual responsibilities.
It is not about the way it has been, it is about the possibilities. The possibilities of who you, and of who your daughter is. Empower her to make choices, to speak up, to say who she is and what she likes and dislikes, to have feelings, to discern, to decide what she should do next, to fail, to succeed, to be … and you stand beside her as her mother and tell her …. she is wonderful and perfect, just as she is.