The Curse of Being Too Complaisant
Kindness has been engrained to us as an important trait since we were just toddlers. It’s the first trait taught to us. Being polite, complaisant, and respectful are ways to obey elders since we were young. Of course, that is still somehow the case as we grow up. The world evolves to more progressive times, but kindness still remains to be a defining trait to keep the world at balance. But as we grow up, the dynamics of kindness change, forming levels and thresholds. Now, there’s a fine line between being nice and being TOO nice… It took me a couple of lessons before I learned this.
I naturally grew up being kind and complaisant because of my family and surrounding. It’s not that not everyone grows up to be kind, I believe that all of us are inherently kind within, it’s just that I really value how my family raised me. Our family lived with extended family members: titas and titos, cousins, and Lolo and Lola. The relationship among us is really nurturing and harmonious. The love and respect flow naturally under the roof. So is the case outside or in school, as someone who studied in a Christian Montessori.
One vital trait that I learned when I was a kid was ‘be mindful of how you make others feel.’ My Lolo was generally the one who taught me that. As someone who worked in the government, specifically in social welfare, he was always critical about being kind and not making others feel bad. He handled heavy cases relating to physical and emotional abuse, and I was observant enough to notice how he treated each case and individual.
Ergo, I applied what I learned and witnessed. Growing up, I befriended and respected everyone, but the problem is, it always almost reaches a point of suspiciousness and ambiguity. I became a people-pleaser—the unhealthy type. I reserved my thoughts and feelings in exchange for the comfort of others. ‘Complaisant’ was the word. It paid off for a few while: receiving recognitions, being voted off as a congenial leader and other pleasers. But on the long run, the downsides outweighed the good side. It became a curse.
When I reached teenagehood, I was officially known to be the ‘the boy who never gets mad.’ The ‘happy-go-lucky, never gets angry’ title vested upon me came to be so destructive for my own mental health. It was so ironic. Who knew that being so kind could be so bad? And who knew that being TOO kind could come out as disingenuous?
I rarely disagree even if I wanted to. I could barely express my anger properly without feeling guilt, even if my anger comes from a valid place. Most of the time, I end up swallowing everything until it explodes inside. This was the curse of being too complaisant. I realized this when I was in Senior Highschool. I was subjected to abuse, in forms of endless favors, tasks, responsibilities and even in the aspect of love and romance.
When I came to a realization, I consulted my bestfriend right away. I was in the threshold—on the edge of things. That’s where she told me a new mantra that changed my perspective: ‘don’t compromise your own sanity for the sake of kindness.’ It made more sense. I could still be kind, but I need to be kind to myself too. Being complaisant isn’t the answer. It took me quite a while, but I learned how to recalibrate my customs and put myself first. I learned the beauty in balance. I learned where to draw the line.
Drawing the line
Sometimes, it is difficult to balance being nice and voicing opinions. For some reason, I generally always thought that others are too fragile, and criticisms or disagreements could easily break their dedication or pop their bubble. This would lead me to go the safest route — nod and agree at everything. But I eventually learned that this is not a healthy way to treat people.
Through my growth, I learned how to listen attentively and disagree when necessary. It bewildered me how most people welcome disagreements during discussions. My fear for disagreeing suddenly faded. Observing my own capacities and bringing up valid points is also paired to the process. It is definitely better than agreeing to everything. Of course, one more trick is to not put our dignity at stake — this will make us nicer to talk to.
In addition, I also learned to give out the appropriate response to someone’s feelings. Of course, being positive is not wrong, but it also shouldn’t come out to a fault. Blindly spewing sunshines and rainbows to a person who is feeling blue is a really terrible idea. You might come out as ingenuine instead of kind. Overly nice people are often remorselessly upbeat, it actually does not help to comfort others. What helps is that we give proper responses and immerse ourselves to the situation of others. Sometimes, they just really need a pair of ears to listen to them—and that is kindness. I learned to draw the line.
At the end of the day, I always think about the situation that my bestfriend told me: Imagine the colleague who laughs at every single joke at work or the friend who compliments everything that you are doing. Or the stranger who starts a conversation with you and responds with ‘I agree’. Would you find him annoying or not? My answer would be that I’d find him annoying—and that would be reflective of my proper disposition with being too complaisant and people-pleaser.
It may seem difficult to be truly nice but not too nice. But from what I’ve learned and experienced, it’s all about putting yourself in the shoes of others. There’s beauty in the striking balance of compassion and self-care.
Xian Oquendo is a free-spirited writer and camera-person from Manila. His passion connects facets of poetry and visuals. Whether inside the cinema or in the groove of the city's streets, he is always in the pursuit of the transcendental.