Too Good for Our Own Good

One of the things people like about Mormons is how nice we are. Aren’t we taught from the time we are Sunbeams that “kindness begins with me”? Mostly I think it’s nice to be nice.  Except that as women we are also expected to be sweet and gentle, which means that sometimes we overdue the kind thing and end up martyring ourselves on an alter of niceness. For no good reason! Two small examples:

Last weekend a few of us went to dinner. One woman ordered a chocolate chip pie that looked fabulous. Except it wasn’t. She didn’t complain, but we could all tell by the way she picked at it that it sucked.  So someone suggested she send it back. Oh. My. Gosh. My mild mannered friend flipped out. “Don’t you dare tell the waitress I don’t like it,” she begged us. The waitress happened to walk by and as my kind friend was profusely apologizing for our bad manners, the waitress said, “Listen, why should pay for something you don’t like? Why on earth are you eating it? It’s not like I made it, and even if I did, who cares?” The server reaches for the pie and our friend just sinks into the booth and covers her face. I roll my eyes and wondering why people have no backbone. Myself included.

Fast forward two days when I am in the radiology wing of our hospital getting an ultrasound on my gallbladder.  “Now take a big giant breath and hold it…” she says, cramming the ultrasound wand under my right ribcage.  Simple enough. I hold still and fill my lungs with air. And wait. And wait. “Exhale, and when you’re ready, let’s do it again.”  This goes on for a while, breath, hold, exhale. Breath, hold, exhale. The technician tells me to take my time inbetween, to catch my breath.  But I can’t bring myself to take a rest, even though I am getting lightheaded and my lungs are starting to burn. I need to be the Ideal Patient. I do not want to take more than my slotted time lest I contribute to the over crowded waiting room. I can be a good girl and pass out on my own time.  I may have gallstones but by golly, I will make sure they are the most thoughtful, self-sacrificing of stones around.  Maybe this can count as a value experience in the Personal Progress category of Martyrdom?

We do it all the time. Put ourselves last out of niceness, out of duty, out of habit, out of guilt.  And while the Savior did say, “And the last shall be first,” I don’t think He intended us to turn meekness into chronic self-sacrifice.  So next time you are eating a mediocre dessert, holding your breath, or doing any number of stupid things that come under the “I can just suck it up” category, stop.  Stop and ask yourself, who is benefiting here? What is the cost? Is it worth it? Sometimes, it is. But other times it isn’t.  Have the courage to know the difference.

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17 Responses

  1. Jessawhy says:

    Great post. I do think a lot of women have this issue, even my own mom. I, somehow, didn’t get very much of it. In fact, I’m trying to learn to be more considerate of others a lot of times. It’s something I’m learning from my husband who is NEVER confrontational.

    I send food back at restaurants all the times- sometimes twice.
    It embarrasses my friends, but I have some crazy sense of entitlement (according to DH) that I think I should get what I want.

    There’s probably a good balance somewhere in the middle. I’m curious if others have found it?

    • Whitney says:

      I rarely send food back, simply because usually I’m starving by the time I get the food and I don’t want to have to wait for the server to come back, and then wait even longer for them to redo it or make something else.
      I think restaurants pretty much bank on the fact that people like me are awfully impatient when they’re hungry.

  2. It certainly is difficult to find the balance, and we shouldn’t be afraid to reevaluate where we are in this from time to time. But we also have to remember that our sense of what is acceptable and what not may not be the same as others.

  3. DefyGravity says:

    I’ve noticed this a lot in my marriage. In most situations I’m okay with saying what I think, but I constantly feel the need to apologize to my husband for nothing. This irritates him, because he knows I didn’t do anything to apologize for, and then I feel the need to apologize for apologizing. If I do anything that could be slightly incontinent to him, I feel bad. And I catch myself doing it, and tell myself “I’m not going to apologize for this.” But then I end up saying sorry anyway. Like last night, we were starting a movie and my sister called me. I paused the movie to talk to her. My husband didn’t care; he was happy eating pizza. But when I got off the phone, I apologized fo talking to my sister. How insane is that? It’s a depressing trend, to feel the need to apologize for who we are and for thinking we deserve to be treated well.

  4. Fran says:

    Very interesting. I think there is much truth in this post. However, I think I’m not struggling much with this overdone kind of kindness. I think my problem is that I don’t participate much in the martyrdom kind of kindness. I believe in being kind, in serving, in going the extra mile. But I feel like I have a pretty healthy limit. I just don’t do stuff or stay silent when it doesn’t seem right or is “too much”.

    I guess “good for me”. But I feel like I constantly run into trouble with my approach with all the other ladies. They don’t find me nice. They find me rude, too honest, too uncaring, too (fill in the blank). So, I end up with a healthy emotional life, but no friends…

    It’s really hard to be nice properly.

  5. TopHat says:

    I did this just a couple of weeks ago while giving blood. I have given many many times in my life, but this time the Red Cross guy really jabbed me and it HURT. But I said I was fine. And my blood was not going through the tubes, so he knew it wasn’t right. It took me giving a pained look (along with some fidgeting by the guy attending me, trying to figure out why I wasn’t bleeding into his needle) to another employee to get him over there. The second guy was very nice and discovered that I had been poked all the way through the vein instead of just in the one side. As soon as he fixed it, I was bleeding like a pro! BUT OH MAN. It hurt for hours after that. I’ve been thinking about this incident off and on for the same reasons as this post points out. Why didn’t I speak up and say that it HURT?

    I recall another time when I was in junior high in gym class when a stray basketball came at my head. I was in tears all the while saying, “I’m fine, I’m fine.” I was NOT fine, but I definitely couldn’t say that.

    I need practice in standing up for myself and being honest.

  6. Rachel says:

    We’re social beings, we want to get along, be collaborative, we do care what others think about us and we don’t want to be selfish, self-absorbed, narcissistic, or worse.
    My experience is women who have spent a lot of time in relationships in which it’s not ok to voice an opinion usually have the pendulum swing too far the other way before they find the middle ground you’re talking about.
    What is a person who doesn’t care what anyone else thinks about them? A sociopath (antisocial personality).
    So, I think it’s sometimes about having the ‘courage’ as you say, but for some women, it’s really about having the wisdom to know the difference.

  7. Kirsten says:

    As I have gotten older, I have felt much more comfortable in asserting myself. I’ve never been a shy violet by any means, but I suppose I have gotten to a point where I will speak out if something just isn’t right.
    Case in point: Just this evening I “fired” my son’s saxophone teacher. For the past few months I’ve heard him complain about her– she’s late, she doesn’t come on the day she is supposed to, she forgets to give him music for a competition… He comes home from school feeling down about his playing. She repeatedly tells him what he’s doing wrong without helping him fix it. I had finally had it the other day when she chastised him for not playing a piece as fast as she could play it. After talking with my stressed-out son, I decided enough was enough. I pay her– and I wasn’t happy with what I was getting for my money. Like the chocolate cake– I was sending her back!
    I know that it’s a bit awkward to cancel mid-school year, but I would rather my son have a teacher that helps him progress.
    Speak out when you need to!! There is nothing wrong with it…

  8. LovelyLauren says:

    This is a quality I often see in others that I do not understand at all. I see no problem with asserting myself, I have to remind myself to be nicer sometimes. Tonight I went out to dinner with my husband and ordered something I didn’t like. I am really sensitive to smells and there was something in the dish that made it smell really unappealing to me. So, when they came around to ask how it was, I told them. Why lie if I’m paying to eat something delicious? Furthermore, why pay for something that’s offending me smell buds (or whatever they are)? My husband makes fun of me for being so picky, but it’s not like the cook is my best buddy and I take food very seriously.

    My sophomore year of high school, I told a teacher on the first week of school that an exercise was too easy for us and a waste of our time. She never did it again and we didn’t have to suffer through it everyday.

    I try to be sensitive to the feelings of others, but I’m not going to suffer only because I don’t want to hurt someone else’s feelings, especially when I’m paying them for a service. I don’t really have a lot of patience for people who aren’t willing to speak up when something isn’t working for them. Most of the time, speaking up is more helpful for all parties involved, at least in my experience.

    • DefyGravity says:

      Ha, Lauren, you’re comment reminded me of the couple times I’ve reamed teachers out. I had a seminary teacher (I grew up with release-time seminary in Utah) who told us one day that we were spiritually unprepared for him to teach us, so we were just going to read the scriptures that day. I was pissed; there was nothing different about our behavior that day then any other. He was unprepared and was blaming it on us. So after class I called him out on it. I told him not to blame us for his lack of preparation, and that he needed to take responsibility for himself. I also told a seminary teacher and social studies teacher off for mocking Democrats in class. Good times. 😉

  9. Caroline says:

    Love this post, Heather!

    I’m one of those people who is generally overly nice to strangers. I never send sucky food back. I always smile and say it’s great. I never complain to hairdressers, medical workers, etc. I have not been able to bring myself to fire housecleaners that don’t show up when they are supposed to, etc.

    But I am more assertive in my marriage and at times with church leaders. I’ve sent the emails to church leaders pointing out problems and asking for changes. I suppose that’s where my sense of entitlement comes in. If I’m going to contribute to this congregation, I just think leaders should try to make it as non-offensive and non-sexist as possible. And I figure the only hope we will ever have for change is if people speak up.

  10. Sherry says:

    Saddest thing about this is it’s mostly what kept me in an abusive marriage for twenty-nine years. I was “nice” to my X, thinking the problems were mine, “nice” to priesthood leaders I tried to talk to, “nice” to LDS therapists we counselled with, “nice, nice, nice” until I realized that being “nice” was costing me my sanity and safety and spirituality. When I became realistic and found my voice, all hell broke loose. My X told me I was CRAZY and became more abusive and controlling. I believe we, as women NEED to learn that being “nice” does not always serve us well. LISTENING to the Spirit is a much better way to live. I now teach my youngest daughter, fifteen and the last child home, to be herself, speak up ( in a kind way most of the time) and take care of herself, especially as she navigates her way with her dad who is still controlling and manipulative. I tell her that if he, or anyone else, makes her want to do something out of fear or guilt, he is manipulating her and she needs to re-think and act on what SHE wants to do, what feels right and good to her.

  11. Erin says:

    I think this “too good for our own good” issue is (in order that came to my brain, not necessarily in order of importance) first, a woman-thing. In the greater U.S. society, women have traditionally been taught to not make waves and just suck it up. Second, I think it is an LDS thing. I have noticed that LDS women *and* men interpret the “contention is of the devil” scripture to mean that disagreeing, however amiably, or asking assertively for what one wants, is contentious, and by extension, a bit satanic.

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