Nice People Don’t Change The World

Nice people don’t change the world and you don’t put a ding in the universe by getting everyone to like you.

Filing Down The Edges

When we’re kids we’re taught to get along with people. The advice goes something like this:

  1. Go with the flow.
  2. Don’t cause a ruckus.
  3. Fit in and do what everyone says and everything will be okay.

So you work on filing down the rough edges of anything that might be remotely offensive until you’re a bland, sanitized, boring shell of who you’re meant to be. You usually know you’ve finally arrived when people begin to call you “nice.”

Nice? That’s it? Really? They couldn’t find another word to describe you? How about:

  • Bold
  • Courageous
  • Compassionate
  • Mind-Numbingly Intelligent
  • Clever
  • Ambitious
  • Witty
  • Loyal
  • Masterful
  • Proficient
  • Resilient
  • Decisive
  • Focused
  • Savvy
  • Problem Solver
  • Confident
  • Analytical
  • Strategic
  • Dedicated
  • Independent
  • Strong
  • Truthful
  • Trustworthy
  • Self-Reliant
  • Enthusiastic
  • Curious
  • Artful
  • Talented
  • Determined
  • Humorous
  • Innovative
  • Technical
  • Insightful
  • Wise
  • Creative
  • Persistent
  • Visionary
  • Resourceful
  • Wise
  • Effective
  • Thrilling
  • Efficient
  • Zealous
  • Calming
  • Tenacious
  • Optimistic
  • Adaptable
  • Tenacious
  • Adventurous
  • Energetic
  • Kind
  • Helpful

Just to name a few. They couldn’t pick one of those? They had to pick nice?

The Problem With Nice

“Nice” is a neutered word. It’s a pleasantry that we use to say about someone when there’s nothing else to say about them. But, somewhere along the line, “nice” becomes a goal. It’s something to shoot for. Instead of worrying about accentuating the skills that make you – you, we become embroiled in the sea of sameness as we waddle towards the central line of mediocrity.

Instead of focusing on doing something that matters, and focusing on being who you were meant to be, we neuter the adjectives and the people themselves by aiming for nice. Instead of focusing on what you know you need to be doing, you rearrange your life priorities to do what other people view as acceptable and appease their expectations. You start to hear these statements:

I really hope they’re nice.

That seems like a nice place

What’d you think about Frank? Oh, he’s nice.

Filler statements that don’t mean anything but a low-level of acceptance that means you don’t have terribly offensive body odor. We’re told that “nice’ is a great goal because you can’t get people to like you if you have body odor, and we all want people to like us, right?

The problem is that nice people seldom do big things because they’re so afraid of stepping on anyone’s toes that stepping outside their comfort zone is paralyzing and doing something that matters and changing the world involves getting wayyyyyyyy outside of your comfort zone (and stepping on a few toes now and then).

If you start to do something important, you’ll hit resistance. You’ll make people uncomfortable, offended or even angry. People will push back even if it doesn’t directly affect their life. They won’t like what you’re doing because it makes them have to consider the fact that maybe (just maybe) someone else has created a bigger story and a bigger world to live in and that the the small, safe world they created for themselves might not be the only way to live.

One of my favorite examples of this is Nate. He wanted to walk across america. So he did. One step at a time. He met a lot of great people, but a lot of people got weirded out by some guy with a stroller walking down the street. He had people call the cops on him, yell at him to get a job and generally tell him how much of a waste of time his walk was. He kept walking. 3000 freaking miles. If he had stopped the first time someone said something mean to him or told him that he was dumb, crazy or out-of-line, he would have turned around 100 miles into it and missed out on a life-changing experience. Nate’s determined, persistence, and dedicated, but I wouldn’t call him nice. Respectful, but not nice. And yes, there’s a difference.

Not Insane -

Respectful vs. Nice

There’s a line between not worrying about being nice and being a jerk. You shouldn’t be concerned with making people like you. That’s a waste of your time and you’ll end up “nice” – and we don’t want that. Be kind, respect others and treat them like you would like to be treated (<– IMPORTANT). But (and this is equally important), don’t worry about making people mad just because your dissenting opinion makes them angry. Just because they want something different from life than you does not mean you need to change the way you live yours to please them. Smile. Shake their hand and be on your way. Life is too short to spend on people who want to get mad at you for living life your way. You can’t make everyone happy, so stop trying.

I don’t know the key to success, but the key to failure is trying to please everybody.” – Bill Cosby

Not Everybody’s Red -

On Changing The World

If you want to change the world (or even do something moderately important and meaningful in your own life) – something that matters, you should know one thing:

Not everyone will to be happy about it.

Do it anyways.

If you walk across America, you’ll have people tell you’re an asshole for walking on the wrong side of a bridge. Do it anyways. If you write a book that changes lives, you’ll get some trolls who tell you that it sucksDo it anyways. If you want to quit your job to travel the world, you’ll get some weird looks and have people wonder if you’ve lost your mind. If you want to do something that matters, you’ll probably piss of a lot of people. Do it anyways.

Do Something -

While everyone else is busy trying to get other people to like them and call them nice, do something that matters. Do something. Make something. Lead something. Do something that matters.

To be nobody-but-yourself — in a world which is doing its best, night and day, to make you everybody else — means to fight the hardest battle which any human being can fight; and never stop fighting. – E.E. Cummings.

Everybody else has a script for your life that they want you to live. The most important thing you can do is write your own. People will get mad. Do it anyways.

***

If this post rubbed you the wrong way, get over it. I’m not here to make you feel good. I’m here to make you do something. If you want to do something, join the latest challenge in the League. Make a change. Otherwise, don’t complain about why things aren’t the way you want. If you want to do something, you can find a way. If you don’t want to do something, you can find an excuse. Make a change. Do something impossible. You might make people mad along the way. Do it anyways.

***

Impossible: The Manifesto comes out next Tuesday. It’s officially happening. (I’m serious this time!) I’ve got the final pieces in my hands!

***

[If you liked the cartoons, buy lots of Hugh's work, he's pretty great]

Comments

  1. says

    YES! You echoed my “shower thought” this morning. Seems like I have my best thoughts there, how about you?

    Here’s my morning epiphany:

    If you’re not offending somebody, you’re not living hard enough.

    I’ve always been considered a “nice guy.” But that’s not a compelling or memorable tombstone epitaph. Thanks for the encouragement to think bigger & bolder about who I really am.

  2. says

    Thanks for this post. I definitely fall in the “nice” category, and not nice in the nice (respectful) way. Nice in the “please like me please please please” way. So this was a nice (ha, or not-so-nice) wake-up call, and thanks for that! I’ll be more conscious of this tendency now, and that alone will help.

  3. says

    Absolutely on point, and I’m guilty of everything in the top half of the post. I’ve had a blog idea, about something in my life that I find inspiring and fascinating yet I’m not an ‘authority’or in any way ‘qualified'(in the regular way of thinking) to be teaching lessons to other folk. I’d hit major resistance if I was to stick my head above the parapet.

    I think I’ll just do it anyway.

  4. Shawn says

    Wow. Excellent post. You really nailed it. I’ve just started learning to not care what other people think of me. I’m not to the point where I’m frequently way outside my comfort zone, but I’m getting there. Keep up the good work Joel, I really appreciate it.

  5. says

    I struggle with nice . . . I’ve scribbled outside the lines and done the unexpected my entire life but people STILL call me nice. (Those sons of bitches! Probably because I am exceptionally kind by nature, but still.)I always have the same reaction to the word that you mention here. Nice?! REALLY?! That’s the best you can do?! It makes me want to kick them in the shins, actually. But the flip side of the equation is this: once people have decided you’re nice and pigeon-holed you because they think they know who you are and what you’re about, you can pretty much do whatever the hell you want to do. The right people — your people — will still find you even when others have stopped paying attention.

  6. Ryan says

    Another amazing post Joel! This one really hits hard for me and I can relate to everything that’s discussed. Respect v. Nice especially, thats exactly how I try to live my life.

  7. Rita says

    If there were a way I could slowly chew up these words and injest them I would. I found as I was reading this post, it was like they were going directly down my throat and into my blood stream. Everything you said…we want to be nice, so we can play small. So we don’t have to create any games that will force us to move into areas we’re not comfortable in. It’s all so ridiculously awesome. Thank you for saying what you said and for pissing people off and all those other things. It’s why I find myself here each and everytime you write something. Because your words speak to me on a level I hadn’t known before. And I’m pretty badass. So that’s really saying something.

    And I loved how Deborah ended her comment. “The Right people – your people- will still find you even when others have stopped paying attention.” Amen!

    • says

      Thanks for the note Rita :).

      Everything you said…we want to be nice, so we can play small. So we don’t have to create any games that will force us to move into areas we’re not comfortable in.

      I love the way you’ve rephrased that. Really makes you think. Play big. Act accordingly.

  8. A says

    I’ve been that stereotypical nice kid ever since I can remember. Recently, I’ve progressed to “weird”. That is progression, right? At least it makes you interesting.

    • says

      You’ll start being labeled abrasive as soon as you start embracing the weirdness. People aren’t comfortable with other people being comfortable with things that they’re not comfortable with (i.e. being weird). That made sense, right? :)

  9. says

    Great blog post Joel! Simply inspirational. It struck a cord with me only because it’s time for me to do something impossible and I’ve been proscratinating.

  10. says

    So I have two, maybe three thoughts on this. The first is that I wanted to dissent. I think nice people can be bold and all of those other things you listed. I think far too often, bonafide asses, get better words. I’ve interacted with enough awful people that I really value a person who is both a change-maker and nice.

    Then I thought, well, I can see your point…when you don’t do what’s inside or make change in the world because you’re too busy making other people happy doing nothing, they do call you “nice.” You make their world feel very stable by your willingness to play the role they want for you. I hate that…everyone thinks I’m nice and it drives me nuts because I think I’m respectful (using your definition) and I’m brave because lots of people think I’m crazy for doing the stuff I do, but I move forward nonetheless.

    Third, the heart of this post kicks ass. I needed it :)

    • says

      Thanks Jen.
      I think you can definitely be a good person while not being stereotypically “nice.” However, just because you don’t appease others wills for your life, doesn’t make you a jerk. If anything, they’re the ones that are overreaching their bounds and are being the jerks. It’s your life. Respect people a ton, but do what you know you need to do – because you’re the only one who will.

  11. says

    Agree, every time I read things on this topic I think of stories about Steve Jobs and how some people didn’t like him because they thought he was a mean bastard at times. He won’t be remembered as a grumpy bastard he’ll be remembered as someone who changed the world.

    • says

      Yup. I think people could probably stand to have a little more respect for others than SJ did (from what I’ve heard), but people don’t like change, so if you’re gonna change things, be prepared to piss a lot of people off.

  12. Sumit says

    Hey Joel,

    I have been reading your blog for some time now. You do have a way of doing things which will piss a lot of people, people who want to sit at home and watch TV. But everyone who keeps on reading your posts can clearly see the change that your example creates. Thanks for doing it.

    This is one of your very best posts. You touched a sensitive yet very potent spot here.

    “To be nobody-but-yourself — in a world which is doing its best, night and day, to make you everybody else — means to fight the hardest battle which any human being can fight; and never stop fighting.”

    I know the battle very well and I fight it everyday. Somedays I win and other days not so successful. Your posts give the very required motivation to the latter kind of days.

    Thanks again

    Sumit

  13. says

    “I don’t know the key to success, but the key to failure is trying to please everybody.” – Bill Cosby

    True.

    I’m a total people-pleaser, and my boyfriend is always telling me how silly I am, how I’ll never be truly happy or get to where I want to be if I try to please everyone all the time.

    He’s right. I know he is, and I tell myself the same things every day.

    But a lifetime’s habit of trying to be accepted and liked by others is difficult to break…

      • says

        I guess you’re right. I do tend to look at things on a long-term basis, and I can be quite impatient.

        Ok, today I’ll try not to please everyone if it means going against what I truly want. And we’ll see what happens…

        (Already I’m thinking that I won’t succeed!)

          • says

            Hmm, not bad! I went to work, which is something I’d rather not do but unfortunately don’t have a choice right now. But I did try to stick to my goal of not doing things just to please anyone, and I think I got there. It was a pretty easy day though. I didn’t get asked to do anything I didn’t want to do. I was able to go to work, do my job, come home and do my own thing. I guess the major thing I did to please someone else was go to work! But I’m working on that sorting that one out…

    • Denise says

      Rebecca, I’m a people pleaser too and trying to change it. No doubt it’s hard and I struggle everyday with doing what’s best for me / following my passion / just being honest and my desire to make everyone else in the room happy. One thing that is helping me is picking a few things that are important to me and then doing them daily even if it means that I have to not do something for someone else. It’s led to some uncomfortable moments and me having to take a stand for myself when it would have been easier to give in. Baby steps…right?

      Joel’s article just reminded me that sometimes when you do what’s best for you other people won’t like it and that’s o.k. Do it anyway.

      • says

        “sometimes when you do what’s best for you other people won’t like it and that’s o.k. Do it anyway.”

        Absolutely! The amount of times I tell other people this is amazing, but I find it so hard to do it myself. It’s so ingrained in me to care what others think, and it’s tough to just stop caring.
        But yes, if something is in my best interests, why shouldn’t I go for it? Surely those that matter to me will just be happy for me.

  14. Justin says

    Holy shit, this is literally everything I’ve been needing to shout at people for the past… I don’t know how many years! You’re a genius! Thanks so much for posting, I’m sure you’ll be one to make a difference in this world.

  15. Alison says

    There are so many idiots in this world that I think people who are nice should be celebrated. It annoys me when the world ‘nice’ is associated with being weak and a pushover. Being nice is not always about people pleasing. People who don’t respect somebody or judge somebody because they are ‘too nice’ or ‘too quiet’ are people I am not interested in knowing anyway. Another thing, success should be judged by your own standards not society’s expectations. I a way, trying to be a badass instead of being nice is another form of people pleasing as some think this is the only way to gain respect. Really it is about being comfortable with who you are and not caring what others think. Not trying ‘not to be nice’.

    • says

      I tried to make that the distinction between Nice & Respectful. Nice doesn’t actually take much work. As long as you don’t offend anyone, you’ll be “nice.” Respect takes work. Changing things takes work. Doing something that matters takes work. Nice doesn’t. That’s why I’m not much of a fan of the word.

  16. daniel says

    I’m surprised at all the people agreeing with this article! Although i do agree on a lot of the points stated I can’t shake the fact you think “nice” is a bad thing. Yes you can’t please everyone and yes you shouldn’t always stop what you’re doing just to make everyone happy but I think being “nice” is something that shouldn’t be overlooked. I think too many people are going to read this and just think they should offend and make as many people as angry as possible, as long as they do what they want to do. Sounds like saying “nice” is a bad thing is an excuse to try to accomplish your goals by any means necessary. That’s just my opinion though sorry if I offended anyone;)

    • says

      If you see my comments to Alison, I think nice is a weak word because it doesn’t take any effort to be “nice.” It takes effort to be helpful, useful, respectful, but not nice.

      i think my audience is smart enough to tell the difference between being nice & being respectful (and I even included a whole section on it, in case they’re not!). I’ve found people are generally good and they understand things on a higher level if you expect if from them.

      That said, thanks for your comment and hopefully you got something from it one way or another!

  17. Helen says

    I like nice. And the older I get the more I realize how underrated niceness is. Forget about changing the world. Just be nice.

  18. Anton says

    An interesting article. The problem I see with it though is that you use the word “Nice” in isolation, as if a nice person is only nice and that’s it. Why can’t someone be nice and ambitious, or nice and bold. As for nice people not changing the world, I agree, there are a lot of not so nice people out there changing the world, Goldman Sachs comes to mind. They surely deserve a lot of the other adjectives you proposed to be better, like masterful, strategic, innovative and tenacious, but not nice. Not sure if that is the kind of change we want though.
    By the dictionary’s definition the word nice includes, “Of good character and reputation; respectable” and “Exhibiting courtesy and politeness:”. It says nothing about being a people pleaser. I believe that if the world was ruled by a bunch of nice people we’d all be better off.

  19. says

    Awesome and timely! I preach this gospel, but I also need the reminder. Playing nice and being afraid to step on toes ruined my relationship with my oldest daughter. Her mom took advantage of that. A year and a half ago I finally stood up for myself and it did make her mad. Real mad. Now my daughter is 15 and we’re rebuilding that bridge one step at a time. It pisses her mom off even more. Guess what. I don’t care. It’s not about her. People write about facing challenges and doing the impossible. I’ve never had a bigger more important challenge in my life.

    Glad I found this post.

  20. says

    WOW! I soooo needed this!! THANK YOU! <—Is that being too "nice"? ;P
    I've been thinking about a lot of things this morning and this post hit on quite a few of them. I am definitely the "nice" (or at least try so hard to be) girl. I don't want to offend anyone, I don't want to say anything to hurt anyone's feelings, etc. and I dwell on the fact for a looong time if I *think* that I did any of those things. ..and there's so much more that this post has gotten me to think about! Will definitely need to check out your other posts too!

  21. says

    Damn Joel, you killed it. People are too afraid to go against the grain because of what people (mainly family and friends) might think but we forget that one day we’ll all be dead and none of this shit will matter. After reading the Top 5 Regrets of dying: http://www.activistpost.com/2011/11/top-5-regrets-of-dying.html that always reignites my soul.

    One chance, that’s all we got. We should feel damn lucky and blessed to even have that chance. Squandering it on being nice, aka a leaf that floated down the river aimlessly, is horrible when we can choose to paddle on the river and get somewhere we want to for the brief time we can.

    We just all need to give a damn. Give a damn about something.

    Keep doing what you’re doing, brother.

  22. Eric Gervase says

    I’m afraid I’m probably a nice guy right now. But, working on it. I love those Hugh cartoons. I actually have one of them that you used printed out and stuck on my wall at work “you’re not insane..”.

    This is a great reminder that sometimes the best way to know if you are making progress is if someone is rubbed the wrong way. Not that you are doing it intentionally… but it just happens. Good stuff, thank you.

  23. says

    You hit the nail right on the head there, with this very interesting, thought provoking post Joel.

    I’m labeled a nice guy, which usually translates to someone who can be pushed and walked over. It’s funny how when you be an a-hole, the same people who try to push you, respect you more and back off.

    I used to think that nice was a compliment, but not anymore. I’ve realized that nice gets in the way of accomplishing things. Having said that though, it’s hard to go away from your true nature completely. So, I strive to strike a balance. When people say that “you’re nice,” I respond with… “Yes, but don’t take my goodness to be my weakness!” That usually sends people the right message.

    What scares me though is how nice kids get picked on and bullied. As parents, it’s a challenge between teaching them the right things, and yet expecting them to defend themselves!

  24. says

    Its good to be nice (an accomplisher).

    You see, here in this part of the world, we call nice people those guys who are ready to give you osme dough anytime you meet em in person.

    If you do something extra ordinary to change the world, no one calls you nice because they’ve got nothing to gain from it.

    Sheyi

  25. Jing says

    Great blog post!

    I used to be a quite the push over back in high school trying to fit in with other girls. Everything in your post was right. Sometimes being nice can just lead to more bs from people. ONe just gotta have thicker skin in life if you ever want to be happy.

    Props for the awesome post.

  26. says

    Just came across this post, and now has more of a funny meaning to me personally, especially after having lived & worked in Minnesota for short time, where the culture of “Minnesota nice” permeates. Especially where I worked there, too many times, management wouldn’t be honest or straight forward with my work performance and would always start out saying something positive, and then start describing what needs to be worked on in a “nice” way. Simply strange to me, since I grew up in NYC, and the general culture here is simply to be straightforward with opinions (though I believe some people here should work on being more respectful). Great post Joel!

  27. says

    Joel,
    Normally I am a RT-er and not a commenter, but I needed to leave a few sentences here. Last week, we did an exercise within my staff during a training session on leadership styles facilitated by @millerAnnM. We had to go around and write a bunch of decriptors/things that people liked about that person, admired, or wanted to learn from. We then read them all silently, generated the themes, and then also made observations on the ones that surprised us.

    One of the two that surprised me was “kind”. Not that I think I am a jerk or anything, but I don’t think I am a particularly “nice” or “kind” person. The other themes, the ones I knew about, were things like “boundary pusher, equipper, emotive, fast-paced, energetic, etc).

    But “kind” was a surprise to me. I don’t aim to be kind, I aim to be respectful. Living in the upper-Midwest, we have that whole MN/WI nice thing going on that we are plagued with….really what it is passive-aggressive to the Nth degree. I don’t aim to be kind, I aim to get sh*t done.

    Thanks for the article, bro, and keep on keepin’ on.

  28. kat. says

    Great blog. I could see bits of me, from the past, i.e., trying to please everyone. Never got me anything but more work and no satisfaction. Finally did some soul-searching and decided it was better to for me to like me than for others to like me. Life is more interesting now, and I’m much happier!

  29. Beth says

    Thank you! This reminded me to embrace my almost 5 year old daughters vivacious, smartass, energetic, creative, funny, independent, persistent SELF! (She is also very kind – when she wants to be) Teaching her the difference between being respectful and being a “nice” is a hard task, but if I want her to be able to retain even a fraction of the awesome person she is now into adulthood, we will need to walk the line at least until she can make it through high school! School is NOT set up for Personalities. It is set up for Obedience. My desire for her to be a “good student” is at odds with her desire to . . . well. . . do and say whatever she wants. But when I look back, I fought MANY battles all through school with authority, all the while pulling decent grades and being known as a respectful, if opinionated, kid. (Though I often was and still am a doormat). If I can remember me at her age, maybe she will make it through better than I did! Thanks for making me take a look at my parenting!

  30. Ted Bouskill says

    Totally disagree:

    Mahatma Ghandi – Did he change the world? Was he a nice guy?

    Mother Teresa, Dali Lama, …

    Warren Buffett – Extensive influence and I’ve never heard anything negative about him

    William McKnight – Built 3M into a massive company that changed the world. I’ve never heard anything negative about him

    Bill Gates – I know people that know him and say he is actually a very nice guy. Don’t transfer hate of the company to him.

    I could go on and on.

  31. says

    Hey Joel, I like “mind-numbingly intelligent”. ;) Anyway, I just found your blog and I like it. We… should connect, except you’re in Chicago and I’m in super sunny Singapore. :) Glad to find an inspirational ass kicker for my training and positive outlook. You’ve got a great head screwed on! :) *waves.

  32. says

    “If you don’t stand for something, you might fall for anything”

    Joel I think your evaluation of being “nice” does a great job of expanding on the quote above. I see “nice” being the “anything” that we fall for. All the other amazing adjective’s you listed would be the “something” we choose to stand for.

    Thank you for your insight and courage to share something that somebody, somewhere, probably doesn’t like. I call that walking the walk, not just talking the talk.

  33. says

    I stumbled upon this article during my identity crisis… I’m 1/4 through my life and I feel like I have nothing to show for it. I spent many years trying to avoid any more trouble in my life. I quit fighting for individuality, and gave up my dreams as well as my sense of who I am.

    Your article makes wonderful sense; soon I may even find the strength to find my identity again. Thank you very much for posting this!

Trackbacks

  1. [...] Nice People Don’t Change the World If this post rubbed you the wrong way, get over it. I’m not here to make you feel good. I’m here to make you do something. If you want to do something, join the latest challenge in the League. Make a change. Otherwise, don’t complain about why things aren’t the way you want. If you want to do something, you can find a way. If you don’t want to do something, you can find an excuse. Make a change. Do something impossible. You might make people mad along the way. Do it anyways. ~Joel Runyon at Blog of Impossible Things [...]

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