Why the nicest people often lose…and how to fix it

appearences deceive

“Wear your learning like your watch, in a private pocket; and do not pull it out and strike it merely to show that you have one” ~ Lord Chesterfield

After so many romantic posts, this one’s going to come off as Machiavellian. But it’s not.

Let’s face it…in real life, and in some of our best stories, the all too nice characters end up not very well. Take Ned Stark (yes, I’m still watching). Is there anyone more loyal, honest and noble? Not so far. Yet where’s his head? Not on his shoulders but on a pole. (Sorry if I spoiled it for anyone.)

We all ask how come the nicest, most giving and loving people always seem to get the short end of the stick or worse. It doesn’t always happen, but it happens often enough to cause alarm and invite serious investigation. What are they doing wrong?

Well, think about your life as a beautiful garden you work really hard at maintaining. Now imagine you leave the gates open at all times, and monitor nothing. Anyone can enter and do as they please. Thieves and honest folk alike will come into your garden and use it freely. They will pick the flowers, litter the grass and maybe even chop a tree or two. Whether with malice or innocence doesn’t really matter, does it? The result is the same.

And there is the answer. If we want to keep that ‘garden’ safe, we have to protect it. As in set some boundaries for guests and trespassers alike.

And now to another metaphor…Not everyone puts all their cards on the table from the start. Some hold back because they are greedy, manipulative and vindictive creatures who will stick a knife in your back with one hand, while handing you a flower with another. Others hold some cards back because they are afraid, know what it’s like to get burned, and have learned to be very cautious. And still others hold back not because of a hidden agenda or intent to deceive, but to save some resources for later use when these will be most effective.

Obviously I’m arguing for boundaries and for holding some ‘cards’ back. Challenges will always come, others will play dirty. If you’ve already given everything away, all that’s left to do is plead and argue until you turn blue in the face, meanwhile someone else just walked all over you.

Like many, I too believed that not being an open book to everyone at all times makes me dishonest. More often than not, I put all my cards on the table, and sad to say, ended up with my head on a pole (well, metaphorically speaking). The honesty is not the problem. Not having anything left to work with is…and being completely exposed, at the mercy of anyone who might have a stone to throw. It works this way in our personal and professional lives, and I for one have lost every single time I didn’t save some of my resources.

There is no other way to live than with compassion, love, honesty and integrity. But, not everyone shares these values.  There are those who will manipulate their way in any situation, put up a good act…and not everyone can tell the difference between an act and the real thing. Many people have agendas, are greedy, vengeful because they feel scorned, and will stop at nothing to get what they want or feel they deserve. The greatest danger and damage comes not from openly aggressive characters who shout and hurl stones. They too, like people who are too nice and too open, are guilty of revealing all from the start. To watch out for are the quiet, calm, agreeable types, who have a logical answer for everything, who remain unwavering in their persistence and take no prisoners.

And also, we should not forget that all of us have our weaknesses, which we can easily fall victim to, all on our own because of fear and uncertainty…but especially when there are outside influences who know exactly which buttons to push.

So yes, we have to be smart, keep some cards to ourselves, and monitor who comes and does what in the beautiful garden that is our life. And also, not expose ourselves completely, at least from the start. If only Ned Stark would have done this, the seven kingdoms might very well have had the best possible king, the treacherous would have been revealed and punished at the right time, and he would have saved not only his own life, but protected those he loved most.

My advice…let’s not be him.

4 Comments Add yours

  1. paulinemah says:

    Good post and worth reading. So true.


  2. Joanna L. says:

    Thanks Pauline, glad you liked it. And now to put it in practice…those who know me will be watching, as you all know I have zero patience and thus not only reveal, but throw my cards on the table. 🙂 When you start watching Game of Thrones you’ll understand why I (and most people I’ve talked to) like Tyrion Lannister’s character the best…and the Spider next. Not exactly role models but much to learn from them to be sure. 🙂


  3. Peter says:

    Another good post youngster, I really like the analogy of the garden, and while I understand your attraction to Tyrion, I don’t share your love for Varys. He’s certainly an interesting character, but too sneaky for me, he’s like the other extreme from Ned, certainly much wiser, but lacking the courage and nobility of Ned, his most precious possession is his neck.

    Back to the garden, like you I’ve learned through trial and error that while my heart is to trust everyone, not everyone is trustworthy and that road is fraught with pain. There’s a difference between being gullible ( a bad trait ) and cautious. We helped a lot of druggies and they will tell perfect lies, they’re so good at it, that you have to develop, not cynicism, but a gracious scepticism and check their stories like a forensic police investigation.

    Another thing we learnt is that many people want your help but they want you to wave a magic wand and do it all for them, so we developed a process that had checkpoints in it and if they don’t pass the first checkpoints, we wouldn’t continue with them.

    I think it’s a real challenge to be yourself (kind and gracious) without being taken advantage of. There’s a sliding scale with not trusting anybody at one end and total gullibility at the other end, and we’ve moved along that scale in different directions at different times, depending on the emotional strength we had at the time. Sometimes when you’re feeling down, the best thing you can do for others is to patch yourself up, and when you’re strong you can handle a few of the knocks more easily, but it’s difficult.

    At the end of the day, like your other post, you have to be yourself, otherwise you’ll never be happy, and you’ll end up in resentment, but you do have to guard your heart.

    There are people who I still associate with, and still like, but I’d never trust them again. That doesn’t mean I don’t forgive them, it just means I don’t want to be Ned Stark and lose my head. I want to be there at the end of the story having helped my family all the way through.


  4. Joanna L. says:

    Thank you Peter, so well said. Btw. I don’t love Varys, just like his character as it’s very interesting. Yes, sneaky, but he has a sense of humor I appreciate. As for people looking/asking for help, being expected to provide answers rather than some guidance is THE problem. Few are willing to do the work, and it’s very frustrating indeed.


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