So Nice We Let Others Hurt Us

By Veronica Rodriguez

Some people are so nice that they let others hurt them. I have been hurt. But I wasn’t nice.

I thought of this as I read a piece called, “Betrayed by the Angel,” by Debra Anne Davis.

When Debra was little, a boy named “Hank C” kept jabbing his pencil into her arm as she sat in her third-grade classroom. It hurt, but she didn’t want to be mean. When she finally got up the nerve to tell her teacher, she was told, “You go back to your seat and tell me if he does it again.” She sat mum.

At age 25 a stranger rapped on her door. She opened it a crack and immediately wanted to slam it. The man scared her.

But she didn’t want to be rude.

He forced the door open and pushed her against a wall.

I want to open the door and shut him outside and then slam the door in his face, rude or not, I don’t care now. Frankly, I don’t push him aside with much determination. I’ve made a mental choice to be rude, but I haven’t been able to muster the physical bluntness the act requires.

And she was raped.

When Debra became a teacher she asked her students what their parents taught them that they would not teach their children. One student said, “My parents always told me to be kind to everyone. I won’t teach my children that. It’s not always good to be kind to everyone.”

Debra wishes she had learned that lesson sooner. Now she knows she shouldn’t always be nice.

My story: I wish it were only a bad dream

My story neither starts nor ends like hers.

I have a memory that I wish were only a bad dream.

I wasn’t feeling well and stayed home from school that day. Soon after my mother left to pick up my cousin from school, my uncle came home. It happened so fast. He bribed me to let him in my room. I was young and didn’t understand why he wanted to do that. So I let him. He pinned me to the bed and started kissing my neck. I told him that my mom would be home any minute. He stopped and bribed me not to tell anyone. I agreed just so he would leave me alone.

I had seen TV shows where children were raped and the rapist warned that he would kill the family if they said anything, but it never happened. So I did tell my mom what happened as soon as she got home, crying through the whole thing. My uncle never touched me again.

I believe that how I reacted had a lot to do with where I grew up, in East Palo Alto, surrounded by violence. A place where you must stand up for yourself.

Like Debra, I still find it hard to talk to men I don’t know. Not because I don’t want to, but out of fear. But unlike Debra, I do speak out loud and clear because I want to be heard.

I agree that parents should not teach their children to always be nice.

This is a rerun. The post was written by one of my students, who asked to use a pen name. 

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About BroadBlogs

I have a Ph.D. from UCLA in sociology (emphasis: gender, social psych). I currently teach sociology and women's studies at Foothill College in Los Altos Hills, CA. I have also lectured at San Jose State. And I have blogged for Feminispire, Ms. Magazine, The Good Men Project and Daily Kos. Also been picked up by The Alternet.

Posted on September 2, 2016, in women and tagged , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. 38 Comments.

  1. Totally agree. I was too nice too during my whole life and struggle now standing up for my own interests especially since I’m still always told I should be nicer

  2. The people we know and love the most are the same people we’re most awful to in word and deed — and vice versa.

  3. Some people have misconstrued my kindness as weakness.

  4. Well it’s not just women. Unfortunately, if a person is too nice, and low self esteem and can’t say no. People will take advantage of them. It’s important for people gain confidence so that they will make choices they need to make so they won’t get hurt and stand up for themselves. It’s a myth that some believe that being nice is never saying no. You can be a good person and nice, but still have a backbone.

    The difference is self esteem. Unfortunately people who can’t say no, because they try to be too nice, have low self esteem. And people with low self esteem are set up to be taken advantage of regardless of how nice they are trying to be, because when a person has such a low self esteem. They are more likely to accept abuse or that they deserved it or can’t say no. So you can be nice, but remember to love yourself first and then you will be a good person who can also stand up for yourself and you will be able to take on people if they try to take advantage of you.

    • I agree: “It’s a myth that some believe that being nice is never saying no. You can be a good person and nice, but still have a backbone.”

      I think that self-esteem certainly can play a role. But some people who are super-empathetic or have a hard time with what they perceive is being mean for other reasons, even when they are simply standing up for themselves. It’s a lesson many of us must learn, men and women alike, as you say.

      • But some people who are super-empathetic or have a hard time with what they perceive is being mean ”

        But when you gain true confidence and self esteem, you stop worrying so much about what others think. Once you worry less about what other’s think, you can stand up for yourself and not be self conscious in feeling that you have to be nice or can’t be “un-nice”. You start valuing yourself more than caring about “what you’re supposed to be or how you’re to act”. When you aren’t completely sure of yourself, is when you fall into that trap of trying to hard to be nice or putting being nice above your values and how you should be treated.

      • Well if you are confident you can still be very empathetic and not want to hurt people. They are two different things.

  5. I think we’re all taught to treat people with respect but as I see it if people treat you with disrespect it’s either get over it or just put it to rest sometimes we don’t even realize we’re even being hurt

  6. Unfortunately there are people out there who will take advantage of kindness. It’s a difficult balance between being so nice that you’re overrun and being too cold. But if you can’t I’d rather be the bully than the victum. Survival of the fittest is applicable to humans too.

    • A man named Alan Johnson talked about the cycle we can get caught up in of fear and control. When you live in a dominant culture like we do (in most of the world these days) the dominant often harm those who are not — creating fear and a desire to be the one in control. In partnership cultures you don’t find that same harmful cycle. As the world we are beginning to move back into partnership as you see increasing gender equality and race equality. But a heavy dose of backlash from some like ISIL.

      • Well, let’s hope so, but I don’t really think that we’re heading into a world that is more “partnership friendly” as there are more forces bringing us in the opposite direction. And here it’s been found that “bullies” are among the most successfull people even in workplaces, and there has been a rise in bullying in many companies throughout the past 10-20 years. This is the result of neo-liberalism and the mantra that “everyone’s responsible for themselves” without any thought of your kin.

      • Well there are always different strains. On the one hand there is much more equality with regard to gender issues and race.

        On the other hand there is more inequality regarding class — partly because people learn to vote against their own interests, because rich interests have a lot of control over ideas. The one thing I do like about the response to Donald Trump is that the people are sending a message that they’ve had enough with the rich getting all of the economic gains. The Republican Party is beginning to fall apart, and probably will if Republicans don’t start to get this.

        The word liberal and neo-liberal are really confusing. Some people take it to mean complete freedom. Which ends up keeping power with those who already have it. On the other hand with the way the word liberal is usually used these days it’s more about being open-minded to change and doing things to increase equality of gender, race, class…

      • Yes, I agree that there’s less inequalitey between genders and race and that there is more inequality between classes these days. However, one phenomena that is overlooked is the seemingly higher competition (and as a result of that competition, inequality) between _individuals_ (in a given class). I’d say this stem from the upper classes’ divide and conquer strategy, which is applied on the lower classes (i.e. business managers that make employees compete sharply to even get and hold a job), but there’s also more competition between individuals on the same level in the same class, which in turn spawn bullying as a means to get ahead.

        You see this behaviour among some middle managers for instance, in the race to the top of the corporate ladder.

      • Interesting thoughts.

        I wonder if it’s also because when you have economic inequality the people at the top have most of the money – almost all of the economic gains of the last 40 years went to the top 1%.

        That’s due to things like off shoring jobs, outsourcing jobs, failing to raise the minimum wage, union-busting, and technology.

        But the top 1% can only spend so much, so our economy is hurting because sales and profits are down. When people don’t have money in their pockets they can’t spend. So that creates a lot of stress and businesses competition to get what businesses is left.

        A lot of rich interests don’t seem to get it, but they would actually be better off with public policy that helped put some money in worker pockets – let workers share more fully in the profits they help to create. Because as it is those at the top have all the power over salaries and will give the lowest salary they can possibly manage. Which ends up backfiring.

    • Yes I think you’re right, and that’s part of the equation and the recent development of fierce competition (and thus more bullying) in companises. Since the threshold for decent wages and company benefits that were available to most workers earlier is now higher than ever, you’re likely to see more competition and consequently more people willing to resort to malicous means to get ahead.

      It’s just really sad, people tell me they actually used to have fun at work and that their company was a thriving society. Now their stories are mostly different, depicting stress, stark competition and what could be denoted as “sharp elbows” (getting ahead) in our country. Not the least, more disrespectful behaviour and bullying.

      • There is some hope for more partnership on this issue, And less dominance by the wealthy. It’s twofold:

        A) the Republican Party is composed of two coalitions that are at odds with each other: 1) wealthy business interests who like off shoring, outsourcing, union busting, cheap labor… and 2) the working class who ends up with no money in their pockets and a lot of stress. The rise of Donald Trump shows that the Republican Party may be cracking up because of this divide. Their only hope is moving to policy that helps both coalitions. And some “reform conservatives” are advocating just that: advocating things like the earned income tax credit which puts money in worker pockets so they will be less stressed.

        B) sales and profits are down because workers don’t have money to spend. Again, things like the earned income tax credit can help to solve that problem.

        We’ll see if wealthy business interests and the Republican Party sufficiently wise up and change policy so that profits will be more broadly shared with the workers who help to create them.

  7. A most compelling reading… the tittle reached me as I think there is a fine line between an unintentional act and one which, being voluntary, involves freedom (choice) and discernment. The so called benefit of the doubt, often associated with courtesy and kindness … it is not always so, because it does not always imply profit, such as in this sad testimonial.
    On the other hand; I was thinking that many times, the predatory mechanical Darwinist laws seem to work better under certain circumstances… at least when it comes to survival, you know. Thanks for the reading, dear Georgia… wishing you a great week… Aquileana 😀

    • And there are two schools of thought on this in the schools Darwin inspired. Once school of thought suggests that it is evolutionarily helpful for us to compete and dominate. Another thinks it’s more helpful for us to cooperate. Our earliest ancestors (foragers) were cooperative — radically so. And they constitute 95% of the human experience. And the cooperation around the Mediterranean — trade — was more helpful than war and destruction. Cultures seem to fall backwards with war and move forward with cooperation. So I’m with the latter school of thought.

      • Such interesting points… I am in with the cooperative vrsion too .. and want to be in! 😉 Interestingly enough I was thinking that the United Nations and the League of Nations, which laid the foundations of international law came shortly after the First World War and the Seconn World War, respectively… So first is war, then cooperation (maybe in a cyclical way?)… Hobbes would say so… unless you assume that first is the perfect cooperative state and then with Society trouble shows up (in that case, following Rousseau´s ideas)…
        By the way… just wondering: Do you think that were are essentially mean and destructive (Hobbes) or that our natural state would be innocent and harmless (Rousseau). Cheers, Georgia. Aquileana 😉

      • If you go back to humanity’s origins the first is cooperation. Our earliest ancestors were foragers who were not warlike. That was the human experience for 95% of our time here on earth. More here: https://broadblogs.com/2016/04/15/once-and-future-gender-equality/

        I just reread it and I don’t talk about the peaceful aspect of these people. But they were not only gender-equal, they were also not oriented toward war. Dominator cultures tend to be warlike. I have another post where I will be talking about that.

        In outline human history goes like this: peaceful foragers (there is enough food for everyone, people don’t own property, so there is no motive to Take by force). Domination culture – which is marked by patriarchy (the rule of men) comes later and it is more more war-like. For instance, people who live in climates that don’t easily grow crops start to invade wealthy agriculturally based societies. The best Warriors tend to be bigger and stronger, and they are men. Warriors also value things like domination. So the warlike dominating cultures overtake the more peaceful, partnership cultures. Hobbs is far into patriarchy, Civil War marks his civilization, and so He comes to believe that war of all against all is the natural state. It isn’t. It is all that he knows.

      • Truly interesting and such a well informed comment. Thank you, Georgia… By the way, your conclusion concerning Hobbes is certainly accurate… not to mention that his social contract theory- in his book Leviathan- aimed to legitimate an absolut monarchy… this is of course would be a sort of consequence to put an end to the `normal state of nature´ which he described as “war of all against all” (bellum omnium contra omnes). Sending best wishes. Aquileana 🌟

      • I’m reading a book called “Game of thrones and philosophy”. It talks about how one of the characters reflects Hobbs living in the constant state of Civil War, and seeking a good ruler. In that state, And with no memory of ancient democracy, I can see how such a conclusion would be reached as being the best humankind can manage.

  8. vanessa velazquez

    I totally agree with you on this. Before I read this I had the mindset that when I have kids one day the obvious thing is to teach them to be kind to everyone, but after reading this post you are totally right we shouldn’t teach our kids to be kind to everyone because I feel like they most likely grow up to be a pushover. Teaching them to be nice to everyone doesn’t allow them to stand up for what they believe in and are constantly being walked all over. It is definitely a sad reality that being too nice can lead to people taking advantage.

  9. Protecting yourself doesn’t mean that you are rude. People always take advantage of people who are nice and won’t stand up for themselves. I would never teach my kids to be nice to everyone but will make sure they know who deserves respect and who deserves to be reported. It’s ok to be nice to people but never allow them to take advantage of you or to hurt you. People should always stand up for themselves and not get scared if someone tries to hurt you or take advantage of them. No one will do bad to you if you learn to say no and are strong enough to stand up for yourself and always complain if someone tries to harm you. Being Nice to people who are decent or won’t hurt is ok but if someone tells you not to say anything about what they do to you, you should know it’s not right because they are hiding it.

  10. Totally agree with this article. In my country, a lot of parents to teach children to respect their elders, can not go against what the teacher and parents say. This leads to children who have no ability to judge and to protect themselves. A social phenomenon that has caused a lot of teachers in a few years, but has not been prosecuted. Cause great harm to children’s psychology and physiology.

  11. I relate to the feeling of not wanting to be mean to someone even though they sometimes are rude themselves. I have struggled with this problem my whole life, especially as a very shy child growing up. But over the years I have gotten better about speaking up for myself and caring less about how rude I may seem. I think in certain circumstances such as Debra’s or Veronica’s you’re not being rude, but rather you are standing up for yourself and not letting people take advantage of you or your kindness. I think this is an important distinction that should be taught to children. While you should try to be nice whenever possible, it is ok to be “rude” when someone is doing something you don’t like or that makes you feel uncomfortable. That’s not being mean it’s standing up for yourself.

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