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Can you be too nice?

Posted on Monday, November 15, 2010 in Honesty, Kat, Men, Relationships, Women

I’m not an Us or People kind of person, but I’m human — I’ve been known to take a peek from time to time while in a doc’s waiting room. How else would I be able to talk intelligently about whether Demi Lovato is morphing into the new Lindsay Lohan? But on my most recent waiting room experience I found myself for some inexplicable reason watching ESPN on the TV instead, a recap of the some of the previous night’s football highlights — so you know I really was not feeling well — along with the two 60-something men in the waiting room with me.

As I sat somewhat engrossed in the action, one of the men walked up to the TV and lowered the volume.

“Do you mind?” he asked, turning his attention to the other man.

“No, it’s fine.”

And then he sat down.

He didn’t even look at me.

Really, I thought — really? (just like that pretty funny  Windows cell phone ad).

“So, are you going to live, or should I start planning the guest list to your memorial?” Sara asked when she called me later.

“Yeah, but I got totally dissed … and pissed,” I said, recounting how the man who lowered the TV volume didn’t ask me if I minded his volume fiddling.
“What am I, chopped liver?”  

“No, but one, you’re a woman, and women
don’t care about sports, right? And two, you’re too nice, the worst kind of woman.”

“I am not too nice!”

“You are, Kat, face it. Most guys would have
said something to that jerk, just like the women who are in touch with their inner bitch. But, the problem is, we’re raised to be nice, and it never helps us. Nice is like saying you’re ‘good’ when someone asks you how you’re doing. Good isn’t an emotion; it’s meaningless. Same with being nice; it makes us spineless. It isn’t honest.”

Sara was onto something, as usual.

Most of us think being “nice” is among the heavy-hitting virtues. We’ve had that drilled into us from Day 1, thanks to our parents (most likely our moms) who were always hounding us to “be nice” or “play nice.” I’m not against people being nice: I like nice people. But call someone a “nice guy” and we know what we’re talking about — he’s as bland and soft and as interesting as a slice of Wonder Bread (and most likely have a doughy body to boot, despite the old claims that WB builds bodies 12 ways).

Because there’s nice and then there’s nice — you know, the person who never offends or takes offense, who will do anything for anyone to the point that it’s personally detrimental, who is about as PC and selfless as they come.

And, sadly, most girls are raised to be nice. And when we grow up and suddenly show some cojones, well, then we’re called the B-word.

Sometimes, we really shouldn’t be nice. Sometimes, we really do need to be willing to offend someone to stand up for the truth and what’s right. I think sometimes women confuse that with being nasty or cruel or feeling that we’re putting someone down.

Was it worth getting into a “thing” by saying something to the oblivious man in the waiting room? Sure, it bugged me but it wasn’t that big a deal. But I know that there have times in my past when I should have gotten into it and I didn’t; I was too afraid of being offensive.

I was too nice.

What about you?

Photo © Angelika Bentin –

Bring on the comments

  1. Henway says:

    Nice is really an ambiguous word, and I hate to use it. But it’s true – nice is sometimes a weakness. You need to stand up for yourself when it counts. But someone turning off the TV w/o asking u? That doesn’t really sound like a situation to stand up for yourself.

  2. Chopper Papa
    Twitter: chopperpapa

    The only thing that I got out of my therapist besides a nauseatingly large bill is. “Sometimes you have to let things go and other times you have to fall on the sword”

    Maybe his crazy ass wasn’t so crazy after all.

  3. Steve says:

    I bet if you spoke up and said “I’d like the volume the same” or “I don’t mind” the man would have apologized and not have given it another thought…ever.

    Nice isn’t exclusive with solving problems.

  4. brian says:

    whenever a girl told me i was nice i knew it was over

  5. The Observer says:

    To be called nice is simply to be perceived as both non-threatening, kind, thoughtful and pleasant. Nothing more. It really fits in with the expression “cool”. Cool is nice. So how does “bad” sound? Better? Edgy? Sexy?

    Lots of people are nice (see above def)and that’s a good thing, but too nice? Its all about self-respect. Got some? then you don’t allow that passive/aggressive gene to rear its nice/ugly head. The volume shifter doesn’t bother the person with sufficient self-respect. The volume shifter is just another not-nice/disrespectful person. He was not “present”. That upset your admittedly tortured presence. I’d judge that he was even less self-respectful, and socially inept, to boot. Your silence conveyed acceptance. Your friend was horrified. Talk about sweating the small stuff. Life is full of small stuff. If it was me, I would have piped up and said, “Hey, its OK with me.” I’m betting the volume adjuster would have, as said above, apologized and recognized your presence. By being “nice” you sabotaged him and kept a valuable lesson from being learned. Now, that wasn’t nice. Peace.

  6. Janet says:

    It’s funny, because I just re-read Fried Green Tomatoes at the Whistle Stop Cafe, and one of Evelyn Couch’s midlife realizations is that she’s always tried to be the “nice” girl. For her, it was to the detriment of any oomph in her life. The “niceness” factor can hit so many of us at different points on the spectrum. In a month (maybe even a week) it won’t matter that you called or didn’t call this guy on his rudeness, but it’s a good reminder about figuring out what does count. Would you have acted differently if you were with your kid? (I know he’s past going to the doc with you, but it’s a measure). It can be useful.

  7. dadshouse
    Twitter: dadshouseblog

    I don’t know if most guys would have said something to that guy. I would have stayed silent, like you. It’s a TV in a waiting room, not the end of the world.

    Those Windows “Really?!” ads are hilarious, btw.

  8. I think there’s a fine line between being nice and letting others take advantage of you. I’ve always been the nice girl as well and before wouldn’t have said anything. But then the last few years something inside of me has sprung up and has told Mr volume guy that “Excuse me, but I would like to see that.” Think of it as establishing your pecking order in the social order. Or else you’ll be the ‘nice guy’ who ‘finished last’. Love the thought you put into your posts!

  9. BigLittleWolf
    Twitter: BigLittleWolf

    This is an interesting post. It touches on a lot of issues – like how women are socialized (still?) and whether or not “nice” is good, bad, or simply blah.

    In a world where meanness is increasingly considered normal, I think nice is pretty good! I don’t mind being told I’m nice, I like days that are nice, and to me – that all means pleasant, agreeable, and while not particularly distinctive – it’s all good!

    What’s not so good is the fact that a man can say XYZ and a woman can say XYZ and depending on the situation, the woman is still considered a bitch and the man, just expressing his opinion.

    That’s a problem.

    Then again, I’d rather be too nice than mean.


    Intriguing topic.

  10. Loriann says:

    From my favorite Harrison Ford movie ~ Regarding Henry ~ “He who is silent is understood to consent.”

  11. Kat Wilder says:

    Henway — True, and that’s why I had to pause. Still, there were three of us in the room, and why ask only one, not both. What’s that about?

    Chopper Papa — well, I sure wasn’t going to fall on the sword over this!

    Steve — Only a nice guy would say that. 😉

    Brian — As a so-called “nice” person, I feel your pain.

    TO — I know, I know. I do feel the inner b*tch about to rear her head very soon. Just not over a TV, you know?

    Janett — Would you have acted differently if you were with your kid? Good question. Probably. I would have told my son to say something! 🙂

    lifebeginsat30ty — You’ve broken through the “nice” predicament! And, in your 30s (so young!). I never cared to be at the top of the pecking order; I just wanted a few grains along with everyone else. Thanks for your kind words. I probably think too much!

    BLW — Me, too. I’m OK with nice. I just hope that there are more options than nice and mean. I like provocative …

    Loriann — I haven’t seen that movie (and how can I possibly explain how I managed to miss a Harrison Ford movie?) but I like the quote, too. Thanks!

  12. Wombat
    Twitter: kissnblog

    Blogs are the nice person’s way of getting even.

  13. Kat Wilder says:

    Wombat — 😉!!!

  14. Steve says:


    I’m not a “nice guy” 🙂

  15. KC says:

    I would have told that old fart to quit messing with the volume or I’ll bust his hip!

    And that would be the NICE thing I would say if he didn’t acknowledge that I was there…

    Of course, if it was Oprah on the TV and an old Woman turned it down and didn’t ask me… I would politely let her know that I was listening to the TV and could she please turn it back up… then I would Thank her and all would be fine.

    It’s just being present… and there is nothing wrong with standing up for yourself… nice or not…

    Hi Kat!

  16. Lucy says:

    It sounds to me like Kat didn’t really want to watch ESPN, and that’s why she didn’t say anything. There is nothing nice about being passively silent when someone turns down your tv show without asking. Anyone who thinks that’s nice doesn’t understand the meaning of the word, and is quite likely to take some kind of passive-aggressive revenge for her own inaction later. Now THAT is really not nice, but those who do it are pretty convinced of their own unassailable niceness.

    And keeping score of how many people the tv-turner-downer asked isn’t nice either. Searching for feminist reasons to be offended (why did he only ask the men?)–also not nice! I never figured Kat for the type to go digging for scorpions, as they say, so maybe she’s just promoting discussion here. But I sure wish women would get over trying to portray their pettiness as “being too nice.” No one is fooled.

  17. Kat Wilder says:

    Dads — indeed, not the end o’ the world. not even the end o’manners; just cluelessness

  18. Kat Wilder says:

    KC — hi back! Well, now if it were Oprah, I would have insisted he turn the TV off! Ugh!

    Lucy — well, hi and whoa there! I think you are missing the point here. The point isn’t about “keeping score of how many people the tv-turner-downer asked — it’s about that two people were watching the TV, and the polite thing would have been to either address both individually or announce out loud for all to hear if his actions would be OK.

    As for “feminist reasons to be offended,” my idea of feminism frees men and women both of society’s “rules” of what they can be and do, not just women. That’s why no one should presume who’s watching ESPN out of boredom (is that what I was doing?) or interest (is that what that guy was doing? who says so? you? the volume-turner?), male or female. If people are watching TV, and, yes, there were two people watching, both should be addressed.; I don’t think the third man was a mind reader wand was able to determine which of us was really engaged in the show.

    And, if you read what I wrote, I never raised it as a feminist issue.

    However, I am never against promoting discussion. 😉

  19. Steve says:


    I’ve met and worked with the type of feminists you wrote about in your comment. Based on what I know about her from being a regular reader of her blog, that isn’t Kat.

    Forget feminism and lets go back to the year 1955. Archie Bunker would have considered it rude if someone turned down the volume on a TV set after asking everyone but Edith Bunker.