Henry Shires Shout-Outs – Good versus nice and the Australian “no”

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HENRY PROFILE NEW + PARISSeveral people whom I like to think are very close to me in this country, and elsewhere, seem to be held back in their lives by a confusion that seems common to many Australians. And indeed possibly many people throughout the world.

They confuse the indisputable importance of being a “good” person with being a “nice” person. And particularly with the need to be seen to be a nice person.

For instance I have an absolutely lovely in-law, who shall remain nameless for the very reason that they would be absolutely mortified if they thought that anyone ever perceived them as anything but a completely “nice” person, who is sometimes completely poleaxed or at least significantly hindered in their life – by the fact that they can seldom say boo to goose. To the extent that they are sometimes cryptic-crossword-incomprehensible because they are pathologically unable to say what is really on their mind. Or, to put it another way, simply “tell it like it is”.

Being British in origin I came from a very different tradition. Despite their traditional reputation for politeness, in reality, in the modern day, British people have no trouble being very straight with you – to the point of being blatantly rude.

And, being an Nordic pagan, Zen Punk at heart, although I have a strong commitment to be being a “good” person – whether it be good husband, good father, good son-in-law, good artist, even, too a much lesser extent, good citizen. Particularly since I got old, I no longer have any commitment to having to be a “nice” or “polite” person. Or especially having to be “seen” to be these things. Especially as whatever you do, some people just plain decide not to like you anyway. And you certainly cannot please all the people all of the time. No matter how much unctuous politeness you manage to exude.

I have a tattoo, one of my several that I used to get annually at the Sydney Road Festival when they were on offer at a special cheapskates price of $50 a tat, of a spade (as in the playing card symbol). And, despite the fact, that everyone  who sees always things that it is an unfinished reference to the Ace of Spades. And, knowing me, if they do, probably for the Motorhead connotation.

Well, as is often the way, they are all wrong as it is simply there to remind me to “call a spade a spade”. Unless of course here in Australia you call it a shovel. Which, according to Wikipedia, is apparently a very specific form of spade that is used for moving the likes of gravel.

And though, it does not always make me the most popular person in the room, I sincerely believe that being straight and honest, and, when necessary, assertive, both with others and oneself, is more valuable than a wheelbarrow load of  well-intentioned nicety.

A case in point of the failure of honesty over the Australian obsession with being, or at least appearing, laid back, relaxed, easy going and laissez faire, while still in reality being just as stressed and imperfect as any other nation, is the strange and possibly unique phenomenon of “the Australian no”.

In Britain they can say a knee-jerk “no” to you before they have even processed what you have said.

But here, in order to keep up the national persona of being universally affable, rather than saying “no” to you they just simply never call you back.

An archetypal example of this was when I was recently put up to a director as a candidate to be one of the subjects in a wonderful locally made documentary.

The director wrote to me to say that “we will add you to the list to interview for consideration”. Then, when I heard nothing for a month and emailed him, I was emailed back by him that he had enough subjects “at this stage”.

Now, maybe it is being pedantic, but in my old, impoverished, still struggling writer/performer experience, “we will add you to the list to interview for consideration” suggested that I would at least be interviewed.

And the final word that all the subjects had been picked, without me ever receiving my chance to shine, was a little unfair. Perhaps even disingenuous.

Now this may well be a case of, if not sour grapes, then certainly the grapes of wrath that have become my regular vice. Especially since I was robbed of the recourse to wine itself to sooth my sometime, somewhat savage breast.

But, given the dozens of times, that I have only learnt that I have not been chosen for a job or as the winner of a writing or performing completion by receiving “no answer as the stern reply” makes me think that Aussies, in particular, are actually very good and saying no.

We just sometimes say it with silence.

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