Manners are a sensitive awareness of the feelings of others. If you have that awareness, you have good manners, no matter what fork you use.

Emily Post

 

'Niceness' and Pleasing

A distinction first needs to made between empathy, goodwill, and kindness. Empathy is a sensory and biological process in which we 1) sense how others are feeling and, 2) match, in part, those feelings or related feelings in our own body. Goodwill, on the other hand, is a moral intention to help and not harm others. Goodwill can operate either in empathy's presence or absence. Kindness is a forbearance in which we hold back a natural or instinctive reaction to another person and respond in a way that helps that person, possibly at considerable inconvenience to ourselves.

Ideally kindness arises out of empathy--if so it will tend naturally conform to what is really best for the recipient. Real kindness does not leave a resentment because empathy and self-possession have transformed the desire to be in line with the actions taken. This cannot be a willed practice. Where empathy is low but goodwill is high (increasingly common) kindness will be practiced (or simulated) in a mechanical or unrealistic way. Etiquette or manners are culturally-influenced brief practices that are meant to cover potential lapses in empathy and kindness for casual transactions, when distracted, or with strangers.

The capacity for empathy varies quite a bit from person to person. Character armor in the Reichian sense provides a durable dampening upon empathy, but empathy is also temporarily diminished by threats, intense activity, greed, hunger etc..

By niceness I mean an strong ego image of perfect kindness that causes an unnatural forced vigilance about the concerns of people. Niceness can be both a deliberate ideology and an automatic and largely unconscious habit (reaction formation) Because the behavior is insensitive and unrealistic, it causes both annoyance in the recipient and resentment in the sender. Clearly it doesn't serve the interests of other people at all, because it is a forced attitude with no real feeling, and no real commitment. "Be nice" may be a reasonable admonition for children because children are weak in forbearance whatever their empathy capacity. With older children and adults, however, there will be a falsity to the actions.

Niceness as a term can also be used to describe good manners, sensitivity, or general civility, and of course there is no issue to be taken with that in everyday affairs. Meaningful relationships however cannot always be governed by etiquette or they become false. Niceness as a trait can of course can describe a natural pleasantness to be around. However, this only naturally occurs in a body that feels alive and in a person that is not at war with him- or herself. Where there is fear of honest feeling and self-expression, a type of forced substitute is put in place.

Social masochism is more deeply structured than niceness, although the social norm of niceness helps disguise it. Social masochism is prominent in the consolidator character, while reactive niceness is prominent in the communicator character.

There is a big difference between pleasing and being the source of someone's pleasure. Pleasing is an attempt to 'force' the affection of another person. This defeats defeats pleasure for both parties, whatever is provided. Although pleasing is sometimes analyzed as being based on exchange theory, I do not believe that is the case, because with pleasing, there is no honest negotiation. It is natural to want to enhance the pleasure of others. But it is being vital, warm and alive oneself that is most conducive to the pleasure of others.