Being Nice, Being Liked
I have never in my life yelled at a girl like this!
Of course, I am channeling Tyra Banks while on the phone with the 6th Healthfirst representative since last week. She is not very friendly, but that’s okay. I’ve talked to half a dozen of these people in the last 7 days and no one has helped me, whether they were friendly (4 of them) or not. It’s all like a very boring and pedantic Ring movie, where on the seventh day, the Healthfirst representative climbs out of the television just to tell you these things will take 48-72 hours to be resolved and that I should call back later. And you do this forever.
I am almost surprised at myself that I have reached my wit's end. My health insurance was cancelled on January 1st, due to a mistake on the part of my health insurance company. They blamed it on an increase in members and a new system. I told them that I understood, as they put me on hold, as I paid for my medication in full, as I pushed back the therapy sessions I think I need because I cannot pay for them out of pocket, as I cancelled a doctor's appointment. "I understand," I said, as everything I read on the news points toward the fact that I will lose my health insurance no matter how many times I wait on the phone with these people. But that's just me. I don't get pushed to the brink too often. And yesterday, I was. I raised my voice. It surprised me.
As someone who worked retail for a long time and got yelled at for practically no reason at least 300 times since I was 16, I hate getting mad at people who are just doing their job. And most of the time, I don’t yell at them because of the “doing their job” thing---when the food is bad or the waiter is curt or the bill is wrong or the paperwork was delayed, I deal with it. It's never the end of the world. I just smile and nod and whenever the person helping me makes a joke, I laugh like your aunt does when she doesn’t get the pop culture reference but still wants to seem chill. You know, just so it’s clear that I won’t yell at them. I’m on their side. I get it. But the truth? Even when the waiter double charged me and seemed annoyed with me when I pointed it out, or when the doctor’s office sent me the wrong bill and then threatened to also send it to a collection agency, the real reason l don't yell is because I want to be "A NICE PERSON."
When you have a book called You Don’t Have To Like Me, people don’t expect you to be so nice. But man, am I nice. And man, do I go out of my way to try to be nice. That’s because there is a massive, important difference in my mind between being liked and being nice. If people don’t like me, it’s never because I wasn’t nice to them. It’s always because of something I did. It’s because I stood up for myself, or was honest about my feelings, or told them I didn’t think the sexist joke was funny, or made a play for intersectional feminism, or checked out of a party on purpose because of my anxiety, or said something that asserted my political beliefs about a women’s right to choose. It's a conscious choice to do something risky or unpopular, despite the consequence.
And yes, sometimes I'm disliked because of something I couldn’t help at all: my face, for instance. Or my ethnicity. Or my gender. Or my jokes! Or my lipstick color! I don’t know! But likability always seems to stem from the deep crevices that make you the human you are--it's very personal. To be liked or unliked means you have have been judged based on something that makes you exactly who you are. It goes deep. You can learn a lot about someone by the things they like..and especially the things and people they choose to dislike. It reveals.
That's why it's so much easier to be nice than liked. It's based on absolutely nothing but outdated manners columns. It's an easy way to feel good about yourself. If someone is nice to me on the subway, it reveals little about their character other than they might be in a good mood today. It doesn't mean they are a good person. But being nice sure convinces you that you are, and it's probably why you do it. That's why I prefer to be nice over liked: it's an easy way to feel good about yourself, to seem selfless, and to seem kind. So I’ll apologize if you walk into me. I’ll say “no worries” as often as I do “sorry.” I’ll hold the door, let you go in front of me if you have two grocery items, smile on the street, be patient to any cashier, bring wine to your housewarming, squish myself into uncomfortable positions so you can sit next to me on the subway, and always ask before I do pretty much anything. It's because it's a polite and easy way to keep your real self from showing. It's because if we all acted like ourselves all the time, the world would be chaos. It's because there are so many people who are too tired to be nice, and the world needs balance. It's a pretty disguise.
So when I found myself raising my voice to the lady on the phone who was not very friendly to me, after 7 days of calling and calling with no change, I got too tired to be nice. I got too tired to be polite. I didn’t curse, I didn’t scream, I just raised my voice and put my foot down. And to be honest, it got me nowhere. There are people out there who have magical powers and can yell at people until they get discounts and money back and things resolved immediately, but that’s just not me. I’m too passive and too timid. And I just can’t yell. But it revealed something else:
When you're not nice, you just become yourself, whatever it is. Sometimes that is kind and is patient and is good. But it reminds you that niceties are a cover. Of course I don't want to squish myself on the subway to make room for you. Of course I don't want to let you go in front of me in line. Of course I'm only smiling at the TSA agent because I want him to not search my bag. But I do it because it's what I'm supposed to do to seem good, and the fleeting high that comes with that. And after a lot of time telling myself that I being nice is best, I’m learning as I get older that it is not always the truth. Sometimes it's just better to be assertive. Sometimes it's just better to put your foot down. And when you to put your foot down, when you need to assert yourself and be authoritative or be confrontational, nice should be in the back burner. And here’s what’s interesting. That doesn’t mean be a dick to people in restaurants. That doesn’t mean abandon all morals and scream at people because they didn’t take the cheese out of your salad. I thought that people who were not nice were just mean. That's not true. Not being nice doesn't mean being cruel. It just means they're not nice today. How could I know who they are outside of that? To me, dropping a little niceness means—go after what you need, and don’t be afraid to push back when people are willingly taking advantage of your niceness. Don’t be afraid to push back when people are not doing what you’ve asked nicely the first five times. Don’t be afraid to push back when your friends or co-workers or family members are going out of their way to try to guilt you into things you don’t want to do and don’t need to do. Abandon the feeling of politeness at all costs. Don't put too much stock in nice: don't expect it to reveal who you are. And don't let yourself believe that abandoning niceties means abandoning your morality or kindness.
I will always hold the door for people. I will always treat everyone in the service industry with respect. But I need to give up being a nice person, just a little bit, and learn to let go of it when I need to. And while dropping the politeness to assertively tell the health insurance representative I was dissatisfied literally did nothing to help me get my health insurance back, here’s what it did do: It didn’t leave me with that permanent nice guy feeling in my gut of I think I could have done more. I have that feeling a lot. I'm tired of it. I don't want to walk through life wondering how many times I got shafted because I was too afraid to say more, and say no, and say it a little louder than I'm comfortable with. I'll work on it. Even if I told the rep "I'm sorry I lost my temper" before we got off the phone. I mean, I don't want to be a monster!
And if you don't believe me, just go with what Tyra says, “Learn something from this! When you go to bed at night, you lay there and you take responsibility for yourself - because nobody's going to take responsibility for you.” And who knew? Even though she wasn’t being so nice about it, it was good advice all the same.