Is It Ever Okay to Not Be Nice?
Sometimes it’s hard to be nice.
We all deal with annoyances and irritations in our lives. That person who cut you off on the expressway—completely out of line! That woman who talks loudly on her cell phone while you’re in line at the grocery store —absolutely mind numbing! The wailing toddler, the failed Wi-Fi connection, the extra long red light when you’re in a hurry, all add up to make your day much more debilitating, especially when you’re already overwhelmed with responsibilities.
Fortunately, such issues tend to be minor and never life threatening. We encounter them, process them, and move on. Learning to be nice, even when you don’t want to be, is an unfortunate part of adulthood.
It can be surprisingly tricky to distinguish the inconveniences from the truly distressing. You question whether you are acting out of immature, whiny, and selfish needs or because you have something truly worth griping about? It requires a remarkable amount of maturity to determine when it’s appropriate to stay silent and when it’s necessary to stand up for yourself.
Professionally, I struggle with this when my clinical obligation to my patients conflicts with my ability to be a “nice” employee who keeps owners, co-workers, and other veterinarians happy.
It’s not nice for me to criticize owners who refuse to euthanize pets suffering in pain from their cancer. It’s awkward for me to chastise the untrained doctors who oversee chemotherapy administered by inexperienced individuals without proper safety equipment or monitoring in place. I shouldn’t expose cases where vets have ignored basic principles of surgical oncology so extensively they actually increased the risk of tumor spread rather than reduced it.
It’s not nice to tell the owner who chooses herbal treatments rather than chemotherapy that I feel they have wasted their money. It’s impolite to call the vet who only took one x-ray of a dog’s lungs before performing a complicated tumor removal and tell them how unacceptable that was. It’s frowned upon to argue with the person who doesn’t want to treat their 12 year-old dog with cancer because that is akin to “torturing a 95 year old human with chemotherapy.”
Though much of what I do is certainly rewarding and worthwhile, on days where my patience is worked to its barest thread, my emotional capacity is stretched to the brink of snapping, and it’s exceedingly difficult to be nice and not behave as listed above, at those times I force myself to remember that at minimum, I can be fair.
When I’m frustrated by an owner who chooses herbal remedies for their pet’s cancer, rather than the treatment plan I outlined, I remember their choice is still made out of a want to help their animal battle its disease.
When I roll my eyes at a veterinarian who took the single x-ray, I remember similar cases where I’ve been told the owner could only afford the less expensive diagnostic test so they could pay for the life-saving surgery.
When an owner declines treatment for their elderly pet, I recall how I felt watching my mother endure chemotherapy and understand how personal experience could influence their opinion of anti-cancer treatment for their animal.
When do I cross the line from explaining the potential reasons behind apparently incompetent medicine to making excuses for it? When is it acceptable for me to outwardly rant about insensitive and rude owners rather than allow my concerns to simmer internally? Am I whistleblowing or am I exhibiting childish dissatisfaction? Am I ever allowed to not be nice?
I’m not sure of the correct answer and it’s a constant struggle for me to determine when to speak up and when to “let it go.” There’s a lot to be said for being a professional work in progress.
What helps sustain me is remembering that even when I’m not so nice, I am fair. That’s been enough to carry me through the toughest of days thus far. It will likely take me far into the future of my profession as well.
Dr. Joanne Intile
Image: file404 / Shutterstock