Maybe being nice isn’t always nice …

Be a nice human

Source Unknown

I’m perpetually seeking inspiring quotations to ‘share’ on my business Facebook Page and when I came upon this one it seemed like such a noble recommendation …  but then I remembered.  I remembered the times in my past when my commitment to being ‘nice’ trumped my willingness to intervene on my own behalf.  I remembered the times when being ‘nice’ unwittingly  condoned the wounding of unguarded hearts.  I remembered the times when being ‘nice’ silenced me on  issues where it would have been  far more prudent  to take a firm stand and dare to defend the marginalized and oppressed.

Ultimately, I remembered that being ‘a nice human’ is only good advice in particular contexts.   I realize I might be confusing or even frustrating some of you right now … but, in all honesty, I am no longer convinced that being nice  is a universally noble quality nor an unequivocally desirable human attribute. Let me explain …

I was having  a little pity party for myself a few years back and remember woefully lamenting  to a good friend of mine that it felt like people were more willing to let me down/take me for granted than they did others.  My friend caught me by surprise when she casually but candidly responded with “they do it because they can.” Huh?  She clarified that  “it is safe to do it to you.”  It took me a minute to wrap my head around what she was actually saying!  We ended up discussing how people trusted:

  1. I would be understanding.
  2. I was compassionate and empathic enough to put their needs first.
  3. I would not hold any grudges.

In other words, I was ‘nice’ and folks learned that I would typically step over any perceived transgressions between us.  Wow … it was an ‘aha’ moment of gargantuan proportions because I had no idea that by opting to always be ‘nice’ I was actually co-creating my own suffering.  I was not aware that when I predictably allowed others to disappoint me without experiencing any sense of discomfort themselves, I was implicitly making it safe for them to continue to do so.  Who would have thought …?  It was such a profound lesson.  Thank you Kimmy!

I’ve also come to recognize that in order to be ‘nice’ it might be necessary to compromise our own inner truths. Being nice can stop us from saying “No, I really don’t have time to help” or “Sorry, that doesn’t sit right with me” … or … “No thanks, I don’t like mushroom soup“.  There are countless times like this (in all of our lives) when silencing ourselves (in the name of being nice) can foster all kinds of internal heartache. Furthermore, if/when being ‘nice’ unconsciously morphs into habitual self-denial and persistent self-sacrifice, we ultimately end up resenting those very folks we were too ‘nice’ to be honest with. As a result, our relationships begin to suffer.

Another downside of always committing ourselves to being ‘nice’ is that we may have to withhold a powerful ‘truth’ regarding someone else.  Nice always looks very, very pleasant … truth can sometimes seem cruel.  If I committed myself to being a  ‘nice’ counselor, I would have to deny myself permission to speak the hard truths that people often need to know in order to stop sabotaging themselves.  It may not be easy for them to hear, but as a brave feminist once wisely shared: Gloria Steinem In keeping with that (and on a more personal note), I will never forget one of the times when I was floundering desperately in the parenting trenches and my husband dared to say: “Sometimes you can be so mean”.   Whoa.  Me?  Mean?  His honesty pierced through to the core of my being because I would never, ever (not in a million years!) have considered myself anything vaguely resembling ‘mean’.  Some might argue that he was being mean in saying what he said.  Perhaps he was … and I could have rejected his unflattering observation on those grounds. Instead, I decided to let his hurtful words land in my heart and humbly notice how what he was saying was might be true.  I remain forever indebted to him for helping me see what I could not see for myself in that moment. It was a gift of growth that would have been left unwrapped if he had opted to be ‘nice’ instead.

I have also learned from clients there are times when being ‘nice’ will keep you in situations that are not healthy.  I’ve noticed that the people who typically tolerate more abusive exchanges in their relationships tend to be the nice, compassionate, strong ones. Interesting, isn’t it?  These seemingly noble qualities can actually keep them from standing up for themselves.  Their ‘niceness’ allows an abusive partner to manipulate their perceptions of who is responsible for their unhealthy relationship dynamics. Their ‘compassion’ allows them to excuse and forgive their partner’s disparaging behavior, time and time and time again. And, their ‘strength’ gives them the capacity to ‘soldier on’ long after a more nasty, intolerant, and weak person would have declared “I can’t take this anymore.”

Now, please don’t misunderstand me.  There are countless situations where being  nice is clearly meritedNo one would argue that our world would be a much brighter, lighter space if we all made an effort to be nice to the new kid at school.  Perfect context for being nice. Or, maybe at the grocery storecould we offer a frustrated parent (obviously embarrassed by “the little monster”) a compassionate smile instead of a scowl?  Might we invite them to go ahead of us in line? Nice place for nice.  Or, maybe we could choose to be nice with someone in our day to day interactions who doesn’t share our religious beliefs, ethnicity, sexual orientation or politics. Perhaps we could resist the temptation to make them wrong/less than?  Maybe nice is especially critical here! You’ll get no argument from me about the virtue of being nice in these particular moments …

I’ve come to believe, however, that ascertaining whether  human attributes are virtuous/noble OR reprehensible/undesirable is entirely dependent upon the context in which they are being expressed.  A characteristic that may seem like a noble quality in one context may not be virtuous in another situation.   For example, we all know many mothers who resist being ‘selfish’ because they believe ‘a good mom‘ always puts her children’s needs first.  Unfortunately, this ‘selflessness’ may actually come at the expense of their children because empty, stressed and exhausted mothers are simply not great gifts to their families.  There are times in life when being ‘selfish’ enough to put the needs of your children’s mother first is clearly the wisest and most loving thing to do for the children!

Along the same lines, there may be times when a loyal commitment to being ‘generous’ is counterproductive.  Consider all the young people who have developed a debilitating false sense of entitlement because they have been given everything.  These kids become demanding in their expectation that other people must take care of their every need, want and desire.  In an effort to be generous, parents can actually rob their children of learning how to independently make their own way in the world.  Too much generosity can undermine a person’s opportunity to build confidence in their own abilities and pride in their own accomplishments.

Paradoxically, there are also times when seemingly negative attributes like being ‘rude’ or ‘disrespectful’ might actually serve the greater good.  In the presence of a bully, a ‘nice’ request for them to stop might fall on deaf ears. We might need to ‘rudely’ interrupt them in order to get their attention as soon as possible. Although many of us have be taught it is rude to interrupt …  we all know there are things that should be interrupted.  That said, many of us have been taught not to disrespect our laws, cultural norms or elders, but … thank goodness Rosa Parks dared to disrespect the segregation laws.  I am equally grateful to all the women during The Suffrage Movement who bravely protested for gender equality and earned me the right to vote . If we are to be honest, we owe thanks to Jesus Christ, Gandhi, Martin Luther King, and so many others for disrespecting the prevailing doctrine that dominated beliefs in their time. In the right context, disrespect may lead to great gains for humanity.

I could go on and on pointing out times when seemingly positive (light) human qualities  may actually not serve the greater good … and … when apparently negative (dark) human characteristics could actually come bearing great gifts.  As a result of doing the liberating shadow work inspired by my training with Debbie Ford,  I am reluctant to agree with anyone (or any dogma) that suggests we should always be something.  Rather, I would suggest that we should always make room in our lives to be everything.  As Debbie explains in one of my favorite books of all time (The Dark Side of the Light Chasers):

We live under the impression that in order for something to be divine it has to be perfect.  We are mistaken.  In fact, the exact opposite is true.  To be divine is to be whole and to be whole is to be everything: the positive and the negative, the good and the bad … (pp. 12-13)

If we can give ourselves permission to express both light and dark attributes  (in the appropriate context)  … we can embrace being whole humans! No one would contest that a whole day contains both light and dark.  Even a whole atom contains both positive and negative electrons!   If it is only positively charged … it is an unbalanced atom.  If it is only negatively charged … it is also unstable.  What if humans are no different?  If we remain 100% committed to being ‘nice’ and light in all circumstances, might we lose our balance and stability too … ?

So many of us reject important aspects of ourselves by trying to only express the ‘right and good’ parts of humanity. We beat ourselves up mercilessly for even feeling anything perceived as ‘wrong and bad’.  In doing so, are we losing our capacity to wisely discern which human attributes might actually serve the greater good in a particular context and which might not….?  Maybe being nice isn’t always nice …

Maybe it’s not the attribute itself that defines the merit in any moment, but the intention behind it.  As we have discussed, we can unwittingly use our perceived ‘good’ qualities to do harm … and … we can just as easily use our perceived ‘bad’ attributes to help.  Maybe it’s just not as black and white as we have been led to believe … and maybe it doesn’t have to be!

I guess for me … the truth isI don’t want to just be a nice human.  I would rather be whole. How about you …?

Source Unknown

Source Unknown

Slowly learning to embrace it all,  Karen

A little confession ….

Skid in broadside

So I have a little confession to make.  My Miracles! website claims I “support others in making peace with their pasts and finding the gifts in the people, circumstances and/or situations they might be blaming for their unhappiness.” It truly is my passion and over the past dozen years I have gotten pretty good at shining some light on the dark parts of our paths.

However, for a very long while now, the Universe has been unfaltering in gifting up a pretty persistent and diverse litany of challenges for me to find the blessings within.   I am usually quite resilient in the face of adversity, but in all honesty, I was feeling drained, depleted and a little defeated. I was at the point where the usual one or two nice quotes were just not going to suffice in helping me find the pony in the poop this time.  (No, that is not my confession).

It was clearly time to call in the big dogs – so I found myself scrolling through the incessant lists of brilliant perspective shifters on Pinterest.  Yes, you heard me right. While some may scoff at the countless hours folks spend populating their assorted ‘boards’, I must concede that I have grown very fond of pinning my ‘interests’ onto my impeccably organized, easily accessible, and highly personalized space.  (And no, that is not my confession either).

And then … it happened!  I came across a sizzling quote (courtesy of that unequivocally ignited my sullen spirit!  It said:deafNow, I’m not sure what this conjures up in/for you … but … it totally tickled my heart, fanned the flames of my weary soul and I grinned … a really big grin that led to a big old belly laugh!  Oh my … I could feel a part within me who just wanted to be THAT girl with THAT co-conspirator with THAT story that we simply could not tell!

Yikes … who lives like THAT?  For some reason, those precious words daringly invited me to step out of my tedious, safe, sensible and all too APPROPRIATE life and experience a bold, delicious, exhilarating moment of tomfoolery! In all my 55 years, there have  been less than a handful of times I can honestly remember publicly smudging the polished façade off my seemingly squeaky-clean existence!

That said, I will never forget when a good friend and I (you know who you are!) very unwittingly colored ourselves way outside the lines of our prim and proper lives!  Oh my … when we discovered what we had accidentally done, we laughed so hard we actually could not speak for a bit.   After several feeble attempts to collect ourselves in order to avoid public scrutiny, we vowed (as solemnly as humanly possible between our howls of laughter) to never tell another soul  – so no, that is not my confession either. I still smirk when I think about it …

And, I’d be completely remiss not to mention the little faux pas we experienced at our 5 star hotel in Istanbul when my hubby and I returned (sticky, sweaty and exhausted)  from a day of sight-seeing (on foot!)  in the sweltering Turkish heat.  You should have seen my face when I noticed a man with a large tray circulating through the lobby with complimentary hors d’oeuvres and assorted wines and champagne.  I delightfully plopped myself down with a tall, stemmed glass …totally lost in that glorious moment!  By the time my husband settled in beside me, I was savoring some scrumptious olives and gratefully marveling at our good fortune in finding this superb hotel!

I was about to remove my walking shoes when my husband casually mentioned that the Concierge had just informed him there was wedding reception in the lobby.  Huh??  I almost choked on an olive pit when I glanced up sheepishly only to discover several black tied men and high-heeled women who were eyeballing us with equal parts of disdain and disbelief.  Oh man … when it struck me that we were unabashedly crashing a very hoity-toity wedding, I started to laugh … loudly and not at all unobtrusively!!  At that point, the best I could do was to refrain from making further eye contact because, seriously, I was not about to leave before we slurped up the last drops of our wine.  We finally slinked away … but it was downright hilarious!!

It’s hard to fathom that I might want more cheeky fun moments like that because I have always been so darned appropriate.  Of course, those of you who have read my prior blog know that I was completely committed to being ‘the good girl’ growing up in order to escape any possible condemnation from the ‘better-thans’.  Then, I wisely opted to forgo anything that resembled mischief making in my noble efforts to set a decent example  for my three daughters … sigh.  Then, my passionate dream of becoming a counselor and life coach came with the explicit expectation of maintaining impeccable character.  And … if that weren’t enough to squelch any lingering notions of tarnishing my halo, I work and live in a small, rural town of about 8800 people.  There is no way to do anything anonymously in our neck of the woods.

As a result, I am downright pathetic at instigating any shenanigans because, when push comes to shove, I am far more committed to avoiding censure.  This is not to suggest that I don’t have any skeletons in my closet … I absolutely do.  I think we all do. But, I am not talking about logging  moments of shame or regret … I’m more drawn to the idea of adding a little glitter to my fairly pale and humdrum existence.

The truth is that beneath my safe, sensible, goodie-two shoe veneer, there is also a part of me just aching to be led astray!  And … if I can find a way to do it without losing my job, betraying my husband’s trust or compromising my children’s love and respect, I’m in!  Lead me astray … please! (Yes, that is my little confession …)

It just feels like the time is right to punctuate my hyper-vigilant life with  some daring and delightful ways to have a little cheeky fun! So, here I am, appealing to you all publicly for some playful ideas of how to ‘skid in broadside‘ …! If any of my good friends are inspired to be a bodacious accomplice, please message me!

In anticipation of your stories and suggestions, I have created a brand new ‘board’ on Pinterest where I can collect all the grin-worthy possibilities! I am calling it ‘Thelma & Louise’ … of course, Thelma will be deaf and Louise won’t speak English … but I sure hope to see you there!

With a twinkle in my eye,  Karen

P.S.crazy ideas(photo courtesy of

My finest moments might surprize you …

Graphic via Google Images

“Compassion is not a relationship between the healer and the wounded. It’s a relationship between equals. Only when we know our own darkness well can we be present with the darkness of others.  Compassion becomes real when we recognize our shared humanity.” Pema Chӧdrӧn

As a counselor/therapist this quotation resonates with me in a way that might baffle you.   I believe my finest moments in the counseling room, or in my life for that matter … are not when I have reached down to help someone weaker or less fortunate than myself.  My brightest moments have not been when I have wisely utilized the letters behind my name to cleverly intervene and gift someone with the answer that has been eluding them.  My proudest moments have not been when I have felt sorry for someone and charitably offered to rescue and protect them from their current plight.  My most stellar moments have not even been reflected by my aptitude for helping someone shine some light on the dark parts of their path.

Don’t get me wrong … these moments feel really rewarding … but … they are not the moments that most aptly reflect my long-standing desire to   serve the greater good and support people in living a great life – despite any challenges they may be facing.

My finest moments in the counseling room may surprise you … or … maybe even upset you.  I know deeply, clearly and undeniably that my most altruistic and compelling moments are when I can look into the depths (and darkness) of my own experience and find that space within me that can recognize and relate to the invisible pain and ache in the heart of ‘the other’.  That is, compassion emerges when I can find empathy for the bad one, the wrong one, the unlikeable one, the condemned one, the reprehensible one and the unforgivable one.

My finest moments come when I am able to feel compassion and kindness for the parent who has abused their child.  They come when I am able to find that space within me that remembers how raising children can bring out the worst in even the most well-intended parents. My finest moments emerge when I am willing to search for the goodness and broken spirit within the adulterer … not just the person (s)he betrayed.  Can I find that part of me that could possibly deceive the person I love the most?  My finest moments in the counselling room, and in my life, reveal themselves when I can sit in the energy of humility and humanity … when I recognize that ‘hurt people, hurt people’.  My finest moments are when I can look inside my own soul and find the part of me that might have responded as badly, wrongly, thoughtlessly and recklessly as those I am tempted to judge harshly.

While I have passionately dreamed of healing people’s souls … I have come to recognize that it is only in my willingness to acknowledge that I am equally capable of harming people’s souls that I can ever truly embrace the pain in another’s spirit.  This is not to make excuses or deny the need to make amends/retribution … these are also critical parts of healing.  It is simply to realize that it is in my willingness to embrace my own woundedness that I can honestly and genuinely relate to our shared humanity.  This is the most authentic seat of compassion from which I can humbly attempt to live and work. I’m not always successful … but … I can tell you with 100% certainty that it is from this sacred space that I have experienced my finest moments as a counsellor, wife, mother, daughter, friend and woman.

Embracing it all, Karen


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