Today, for the first time in my life, I became aware with glaring clarity of just how complacent and small I have allowed myself to become. It was a wake-up call. And wow, was it an uncomfortable one. For ethical reasons, I can’t share details of what exactly happened (though someday I may be able to), but suffice to say that I became extremely aware of the fact that I have been surrounded by implicit discrimination for a very long time and until today I just thought that it was something I needed to keep my head down about, accept, and keep moving through. I didn’t even realize that some of the things I have experienced were actually discriminatory, and that I’ve simply been allowing people to walk on me and keep me small and silent to keep them comfortable.
All these realizations are coming on the crest of a wave of powerful healing I started a couple months ago. I made a decision after my surgery that I needed to heal myself, physically, mentally, emotionally and spiritually. Holistically, if you will. With the help of my amazing team of mental health, medical, and spiritual specialists, I’ve begun to embark on a journey to reclaim my voice, my health, and my whole being from a lifetime of survival techniques and engrained patterns of behaviour that no longer serve me. And let me tell you, the first thing I began to notice within myself was a surge of emotions that I had suppressed for a very long time. A lot of feelings started bubbling to the surface that I haven’t felt in a very long time. And the one that has begun to surface very prominently has been anger. Anger is generally one of those emotions that is considered a secondary emotion. It stems as a reaction to events, and is generally related to a sense of having been wronged, or as a reaction to a perceived injustice having occurred. And it also happens to be an emotion that is often considered to be negative and is consequently taught to be subdued, silenced, or otherwise quelled without proper attention. We generally don’t teach people how to healthily deal with anger, or what we can do with it in a constructive way. People are afraid of anger, because anger is an uncomfortable emotion, both for the person experiencing it and for those around them. But the thing about anger is that it is wildly underappreciated as an agent of change. There is a reason we have coined the term “righteous anger.” I would take anger over depression or anxiety any day, because I know that it can be channeled into something positive; I can use it to fuel my need for change and stoke the fires of passion. In this way, I am insanely grateful for my recent re-discovery of anger. And let me tell you, I have begun to realize that I do actually have a lot to be angry about.
Today I realized that being “nice” has contributed to a lot of my anger. We are almost all taught from a very young age that we need to be “nice.” What does that even mean? Being nice is usually associated with making everyone around you feel good. It causes us to share, to listen to our elders, to help others in need, all out of the fear of repercussion or to not cause trouble…but I think the biggest mistake we’ve made as a society in general is that we mistake niceness with respect. And respect, my friends, is a very different beast than “being nice.” Respect also causes us to share, to listen, to be kind, but it approaches these things through a different lens. I can respect someone, and show them the love and kindness that we all deserve without sacrificing my own needs and without accepting someone’s unacceptable behaviour. And I think that’s what “being nice” has done to us. Teaching people to be nice doesn’t teach them to respect others or themselves. It simply creates a culture that stops us from actually being able to have difficult conversations with each other in a respectful way, which also leads to a lot of “behind closed doors” conversations that are hurtful and unproductive. It also damages our self-respect. A simplified example: You’re at a party and someone tells a racist joke. Trying to be nice and to not make a “scene” (it’s not your house, after all), you might chuckle softly while all the voices in your head are screaming at you to step in an respectfully address the situation. And then after you go home you tell your partner about that jerk at the party who was being such a racist dick. What does that situation accomplish? Well, besides being a terrible ally to POC (people of colour), you’ve also managed to betray yourself and suppress your core values. And the guy who told the joke is just going to go to another party and tell the same joke because no one ever took the time to have a conversation about why that isn’t ok. It has become so prevalent and so engrained that the only time we ever really notice that something is unacceptable is when someone gets angry, and by that point there is a good chance that there has already been a lot of damage done. Being nice is easy. Being respectful is a hell of a lot more difficult. Being nice destroys our ability to be authentic.
What I’m saying is that I’m done being nice. People in minorities and underprivileged groups will often use “nice” as a survival technique. We will often avoid rocking the boat, speaking our minds, and standing up for ourselves because time and experience teaches us to shut up, keep our mouths shut, and stop making noise so that we will be tolerated. And I’m over it. SUPER over it. I’ve tried to be nice my whole life. I got mercilessly bullied as a child, as a young girl who didn’t fit in with the other girls and as a kid who had interests different to my peers. I got talked over and disregarded and asked to provide proof to doctors, professors, employers, and leaders in positions of power over me. I have repeatedly and very seriously sacrificed my personal authority and self-respect to avoid having negative attention shone on me, fearing personal and professional repercussions. I have been actively and passively discriminated against my entire life, and the only thing that being nice has given me is about 35 years of spiritual, emotional, and physical damage to undo. I will always continue to be respectful. I will continue to emulate the kind of person that I want to see more of in the world. I will continue to practice gentleness, patience, and grace. I will use my privilege to stand up for those who have less than me. I will walk the walk. But there are a lot of things I’m done with. I’m done not feeling angry. I’m done with sitting silently while people say and do things around me that I am not ok with. I’m done accepting less for myself than what I deserve. And I’m certainly done being nice.