Bujinkan Budo Taijutsu Dojo, Victoria BC Canada

The Myth of Nice

The Myth of Nice is the idea that we must behave politely no matter how uncomfortable we feel. The result of this myth is that in social situations people tolerate being made to feel uncomfortable because they want to seem polite. And this insistence on politeness creates opportunities for predators (plus a lot of misunderstandings!). It is nice to be polite, but you don’t have to be nice!

Boundaries are how we communicate to others what we will and will not tolerate. Legal systems are boundary systems. Legal systems are guidelines for acceptable social behaviour, designed in part to help us understand the line between our rights and the rights of others. Boundary statements are how we as individuals communicate our expectations of appropriate social behaviour. Our boundary statements may be casual (e.g., I’m not drinking, but I’ll go with you to the bar / I prefer to be woken by a soft voice / I don’t kiss on the first date) or direct (e.g., Stay above the waist / Don’t call me that / I’m not interested). Boundary statements tell other people what is acceptable and feels good for us and what is not acceptable or feels bad for us.

Boundary statements are useful in defense of person situations, whether we are defending ourselves or others. Boundary statements can help remind people of the rules of polite social behaviour, and boundary statements can help tell people that they are about to trespass our rights, our space, or our safety. Your boundary statements represent your social preferences, and directly link to the defensive actions you will take to protect yourself. Expect that you will be the first and potentially only person to defend yourself and your boundaries.

In a defense of person situation, a boundary statement needs to be brief, clear, and enforced. If a boundary statement includes a consequence (e.g., leave me alone or I will call the police), the consequence must be applied if the boundary is crossed. Choosing which type of boundary statement to use in a defense of person situation is similar to choosing which type of reception or attack to use in a defense of person situation, in that a boundary statement is a communication that shapes the tactical space and directly impacts the flow of the altercation.

Boundary statements for use in defense of other:

  • You’re making her feel uncomfortable; please stop yelling.
  • It’s rude to push people, and I will not let you push him again.
  • Stop pushing her.
  • Please give us some space.
  • I need you to give us some space.
  • Back off.
  • Leave them alone, or I will call the police.
  • Please stay away from us, I don’t want to hurt you.
  • We’re leaving, don’t follow us.
  • Let them go / Take your hands off them.
  • I’m not going to let you hurt them / anyone.
  • We don’t want to fight you.

Boundary statements for use in defense of self:

  • You’re making me feel uncomfortable; please stop yelling.
  • Stay away from me.
  • Please give me some space.
  • I need you to give me some space.
  • I don’t like it when you speak to me this way.
  • Leave me alone.
  • Leave me alone, or I will call the police.
  • Don’t come any closer.
  • I don’t want to hurt you, please stay away from me.
  • I don’t want to hurt you but I will protect myself.
  • I will protect myself if you come any closer.

Words and phrases such as please / I don’t want to hurt you / I’m asking you to / I’m not going to can be added to boundary statements as part of de-escalation strategy. De-escalation language avoids challenging, threatening, arguing, insulting, shaming, and commanding. For example, Shut up or I’ll fuck you up is a threat (and a challenge and a command and a shaming insult), whereas Stay away from me or I will protect myself is a boundary statement. Shut up is a command; stay away is a warning.

Some boundary statements aren’t vocal. For example, raising your hands with palms facing outward is an international symbol for “Stop” – when we see someone give us this signal, we know that they do not want us to approach any closer. Combining a vocal boundary statement with a physical boundary statement gives a clear signal to those around us that we are defining and defending our personal space. In defense of person situations, when we define our physical boundary and someone attempts to trespass that boundary then we know we are in a situation that requires a robust physical response – in other words, we are freed from the social constraint of politeness and can respond to protect ourselves and those around us. We don’t have to wait to be hit or touched first; we are obligated to define and protect our boundaries, to flee from people who attempt to trespass those boundaries, and to defend ourselves or those around us when fleeing is not possible.

In Canada, citizens are obligated not to escalate violence – meaning that we are expected to disengage from threats and challenges whenever possible, to flee danger whenever possible, and to respond with a level of violence appropriate to the level of threat. So how do we as citizens live up to these social expectations? Don’t get into fights. Don’t trade insults. Don’t trade threats. If you don’t like what someone is saying, leave. (Your ego might hate it, but your legal defense will thank you.) If a fight is coming to you, flee. If you can’t flee, end the threat.

Ending the threat means either a) getting the assailant out of your space and then getting away from the assailant (for example, if a drunken relative initiates inappropriate contact, or if you’re assaulted by a minor in your care), or b) dissuading / knocking over / breaking bones / knocking out / immobilizing / doing whatever you need to do to survive, including lethal force if you are defending your life.

Ending the threat is not about getting into fights. Fights are contests; defense of person is about evading and surviving threat. Ending the threat means taking a tactical route to the end of the altercation while minimizing harm (to yourself and those in your protection). If the tactical route to the end of the altercation is running away while loudly singing, then run and sing. If the tactical route to the end of the altercation is to evade or disarm and then flee, evade or disarm and then flee. If the tactical route to the end of the altercation is to not die, then don’t die. Neutralize the threat, and reach safety.

True politeness means being accountable for what we want and do not want, and accountability requires being willing to define and enforce our boundaries. If we know our boundaries, it becomes easier to not be challenged by threats and it becomes easier to act when in danger. If we neglect our boundaries and shrink our personal space (emotional or physical) in order to be polite, then we give up our safety and comfort even as someone else is behaving impolite, and we learn a pattern of giving up our safety to accommodate others. If we give up our safety, we are at a disadvantage when others behave inappropriately. Respecting boundaries (our own and other people’s) is one of the best ways to be polite.

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