Good girl or nice girl
Good girl or nice girl
When I was in my twenties I worked in a high-end restaurant with white linen, polished cutlery, impeccable service and the best-of-the-best when it came to food and wine. During a quiet shift one day, a colleague who reminded me very much of a butler, turned to me and proposed in a distinguished tone, “...there are good girls and there are nice girls; are you going to be a good girl, or are you going to be a nice girl?”
And there it was—the expectation that if I behaved one way I would be ‘good’ and if I behaved another way I would be ‘nice,’ each loaded with implications. As I tried to make sense of this cryptic message I was left with the question, which one was ‘better’ – good or nice?
I can rattle off a lifetime of experiences where I was taught that this way of behaving was ‘good’ or that way of behaving was ‘nice’… be it with family, church, school, friends, teachers, bosses … and I have no doubt that each and every one of us could run a similar catalogue of ‘this is good’ and ‘this is nice’ when it comes to behaviour and what is socially acceptable. But what does it really mean to be good or be nice?
Niceness breeds niceness
Growing up I was encouraged to be ‘nice’, in fact, my mother always used to say ‘niceness breeds niceness’, which it probably does. Nice is pleasant, coy, it doesn’t cause ripples, it doesn’t rock boats, it keeps the peace and avoids confrontation. It has also been described as meticulous and attentive.
That said, nice wasn’t always so ‘nice’, originally it was used to describe something as foolish or wanton (Middle English), or as silly (Anglo-French), or as downright ignorant from the Latin ‘nescire’ – not to know (from ne- not + scire to know, kind of like saying ‘no science’). Digging under the surface, ‘nice’ feels like subterfuge — its meaning elevated over time so that pretending ‘not to know’ became not just socially acceptable but the desirable outcome.
So why was I encouraged to be ‘nice’? Well, based on what I have experienced nice keeps things status quo, it avoids reactions and physical confrontations but more importantly nice offers a mechanism that gives one a sense of control over interactions and situations and offers reassurance that nothing is wrong here and that life is pleasant, there’s nothing to see or question here. It’s a proverbial brush-off. What’s wrong with that you may ask? Well, nothing is wrong about it per se, it’s just simply not necessarily honest or truthful. And in the absence of at least honesty, nice becomes an enabling sidekick of dishonesty. So, it could be benign, or it could be like eating poison candy – sweet and enticing on the outside but there’s no nutrition and even worse it can make you ill if you eat it.
After decades of being nice, there I was at 39 years old feeling sick, exhausted, anxious and depressed. I had checked all the boxes, been a nice person most of my life and yet I was miserable. And obviously my body couldn’t take it anymore — it was wasting away. I was still functioning and getting to work but I was losing weight and always hungry despite eating three healthy meals a day with snacks in between. My hair was thinning, I was tired all the time yet I couldn’t sleep, and my mood was all over the place – I was just barely holding it together.
I had two options:
- Select any of the myriad ways to prop myself up and keep things looking nice
- Start being honest.
I chose the latter and I will say it wasn’t easy but it was worth it. I began by responding honestly when asked “How are you?” At that time I would at least say “I feel exhausted”, or “I feel miserable.” Then I could start to address the why factor. I also introduced the word ‘no’ into my vocabulary. “No, I can’t and I won’t compromise to try to keep people around me happy” and more importantly, “No, I won’t accept abuse in my life anymore and yes that includes self-abuse.”
Slowly but surely my body began to respond and rebuild. I stopped losing weight, my appetite stabilised and my body filled out naturally, my energy levels and strength increased, I was less tired, my hair and skin felt healthier and importantly my self-assurance, confidence and feelings of self-worth increased as I honored what I was feeling rather than pretending. The process continues to this day. The taint of nice has become more and more subtle; those moments where I override what I am feeling and hold back to keep the status quo or feel a sense of control are becoming less and less comfortable to maintain.
The more honest I have become, the more difficult it is to stomach the sugar coated-ness of nice because the truth is I do know and that knowing is a science. A shift described beautifully in Latin from ‘nescire’ to ‘conscio’, from ‘no science’ to ‘with science’, from nice to conscious. An awakening.
For Goodness’ Sake
I have attempted to write about ‘good’ for some time now and even now my head hurts thinking about it. “For goodness’ sake” or “Oh – good girl!” were other frequent declarations from my mother. Growing up the words ‘goodness’ and ‘good’ became so very comforting; I was taught that ‘good’ was the right thing – it was hopeful, benevolent, rewarding and prosperous. However, as I search in any of the numerous online dictionaries to seek a definition of good that I can settle with, I am left feeling overwhelmed and still grasping. Though not as conflicting in meanings as the word ‘nice’, the use of the word ‘good’ is vast and varied. In one online dictionary it is described as:
- an adjective with 42 definitions listed beginning with morally excellent; virtuous; righteous; pious: such as in ‘a good man’
- a noun with 6 definitions listed such as profit or advantage; worth; benefit such as in ‘We shall work for the common good’.
Nowhere have I found yet a universal definition of what exactly it means to ‘be good’. For example, being morally excellent or virtuous could play out as completely different behaviours depending on which country one is was born in, what beliefs one is raised with, what subcultures one associates with, or how and where one is educated. In any war or dispute both sides could argue that they are at war for the good of their nation or people and we have seen atrocities carried out in the name of ‘good’. Depending on your perspective the same thing could be either good or bad – competitive sports are a classic example of where this plays out. In a footy match the spectators will determine the outcome of the game as good or bad depending on which team they support. So, it seems that ‘good’ has an elusive quality, adjusting shape, meaning, scope and appearance depending on circumstance, who you ask and when you ask. This is described beautifully by Serge Benhayon in his book The Way of the Initiation:
"When one discusses the subject of ‘good’, it needs to be understood that ‘a good’, is only relative to the perception of where one is coming from and therefore, ‘a good’ is an interpretation and in most cases, if not all of them, is not a truth. What is good for one person may not be good for another. However, what is of energetic truth, serves us all at the one time."Serge Benhayon The Way of Initiation, ed 1, p 291
This idea that good is based on a perception that is constructed from ideals, beliefs, past experience, social norms etc. is still a constant study for me. I can see now that aspiring to be good is a bit of a hamster wheel because you never really get there. Good requires constant assessment, judgment and categorisation. It asks you to fit in and in that way leaves little space for natural expression, observation or spontaneity. The other thing about ‘good’ is that it can’t exist without ‘bad’ – the two bedfellows complete a scale where on one end you are rewarded and on the other end you are punished.
Between good and bad everything can be measured on a linear scale – a scale that justifies why something can be deemed either good or bad. That’s bad so therefore this must be good and vice versa.
This is why my head hurts thinking and writing about good — it’s complicated. Which may explain why good and bad in the same way as nice left me in a state of anxiety and exhaustion after decades of constantly trying to measure up. From a very young age I was punished for being bad — from being scolded at home for misbehaviour to being threatened with suspension at high school. At the same time, I was also rewarded for the effort of being good — particularly at home for not rocking the boat and in school for intellectual achievements that made the school and teachers also look ‘good’. I was educated that everyone wants life to be good and this is how you ensure that; the scale is set up as the gold standard. The rewards for being good sure were nice especially when everyone got to feel good, even though it was usually fleeting.
If good feels so good then what’s the problem? As Serge continues in The Way of Initiation:
“‘Good’ is simply and nothing more than an interpretation.Serge Benhayon The Way of Initiation, ed 1, p 292
Therefore, ‘good’ does not have a constant terminal, that is, it is not something that brings us all into a one-unified truth.”
In a world open to interpretation and misinterpretation, what does one-unified truth mean? Could it even be real? What is the real deal? As a student of The Way of The Livingness, it’s a possibility I continue to explore for I am constantly learning to see all the ways I habitually ‘measure up’ based on ideals, expectations, constructs or attachments to how life should be or how I should be in life. I am learning that there is an alternative to oscillating on a linear scale of good vs bad, and that is to listen to what I am feeling within, what I am sensing and/or what my body is communicating. So, rather than trying to control where I fit and others fit and the world fits based on outside indicators, I take a moment and step off the good/bad scale into a space where there is no measuring.
It’s unnerving at first because I was not used to being off the scale at all, despite the confinement and performance required it was so familiar and comfortable. However, the more I stop or pause — even for a breath — just to allow myself a moment to observe how my body is feeling, then I have the opportunity to consider responding in a way that honours those feelings within me rather than measuring up to a scale or expectation outside of me.
And the more I practise this, the more I feel like I can breathe again and the less I experience anxiety, stress or fatigue in life because I am able to allow myself and life to be and to flow naturally. No trying, no effort.
“The obvious evil hand can injure, disfigure or just kill you while its good hand will let you live while you live everything you are not.”Serge Benhayon The Way of The Livingness, Sermon 80.7.
Years later, thanks to the teachings of The Ageless Wisdom as delivered through Serge Benhayon and so many other awesome people committed to living truth, my confusion is almost cleared so that if asked again:
“Are you going to be a good girl or are you going to be nice girl?”
my response is:
“Neither thanks, I’ll simply be me.”