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When Do You Stop Being Nice?

Today, I am driving along my merry way, exiting the highway, when I feel my car pulling hard to the right. “Oh, no,” I thought. “Not a flat tire.” But alas, it was. I coast off the ramp and pull over.

I am such a girl when it comes to anything having to do with cars. If I absolutely had to change the tire, I know I could (as long as I could get the lugnuts off!). But, why strain myself? That’s why I pay for roadside assistance. 🙂

Digging through my wallet to find my AAA card, I am momentarily frustrated at this inconvenience. It’s going to take about an hour for the tow truck to come change my tire. Then my mind shifts. It’s a beautiful day. I’ve got a beach chair permanently parked in my trunk, and I have my journal in my purse. Maybe this is the universe’s way of giving me a break in my day.

Just then, a car pulls over behind mine and a very kind gentleman gets out. “Need some help?” he asks. “Oh, thank you,” I say. “I’m actually all set. AAA is on their way.”

“Who knows how long it will take them to get here. Let me do it for you.”

So maybe this break in my day isn’t a universal gift, but instead a lesson in accepting help.

“That would be great,” I reply. “Thanks.”

He dives right into the task at hand. At first I’m not certain he has the jack positioned correctly, but I am quick to doubt myself. What do I know about changing a tire anyway? He struggles to get the car up, what with the curb in the way of the flow of the jack. The sun has come out now and he is sweating as he cranks. He gets it up just enough of the way to remove the flat tire. I’m still not confident that the car is properly supported, but I say nothing for fear of offending him.

He walks to the back of the car to put the flat in the trunk. As he drops it in, the car lunges forward, coming off the jack and falling to the ground. “Oh, great,” I think. “Why didn’t I speak up when I doubted? Why didn’t I just insist on AAA coming?” I’m just thankful he wasn’t under the car!

He gets back to jacking up the car and pauses often. “I have to take it slow,” he says. “I have a bad hernia.” O.K. Enough’s enough. I’ve got to get this man on his way and call AAA back. “Listen,” I say, “I don’t want you to get hurt. I’ll call AAA and get them out here. I appreciate your help. Really I do. But, it’s ok. I don’t mind waiting for them. It gives me a chance to relax.” But, he insists on finishing the job.

At this point, I’d really rather AAA finish it. I don’t want him to hurt his hernia, and I certainly don’t want any more damage done to my car. How do you handle a situation like this? Here’s this guy, taking time out of his day to do a stranger a favor, but I’d like to politely decline his offer. When is it ok to stop being nice and insist that he stop? I couldn’t answer that question. So, I let him finish and then had to promptly go to a mechanic’s to figure out what the new, awful clanking noise was (just some panel that bent on the car’s fall – the mechanic easily bent it back).

My friend Joan once wrote an article on her desire to not be considered nice. She writes that “nice” is externally defined. One doesn’t call herself “nice”. Others must define you as such. Instead, she wanted to be good and strong; confident in her actions and decisions. I am sure there was some way I could have politely asserted myself and convinced him to consider his good deed done, but in the moment, I could come up with nothing. I guess I could have more vehemently declined his offer from the beginning.

How do you handle situations like this? When do you stop being “nice” in an effort to honor what it is you want? And how do you do that while still being courteous? I’m sure I’ll have many more opportunities to practice….

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