The holiday season is a time for sharing and spending time together. It traditionally includes doing things for others. It can also be a time where we overschedule ourselves and get overwhelmed by the agenda—Latin for things that need to be done.

Your partner asks you to join the family for a tree-cutting ritual while you are in dire need of some solo time. Your neighbors invite you to their daughter’s holiday recital on Sunday evening just when you wanted to finish up a project of your own.

What do you do? What do you say? How do you balance passion for self—your needs—with compassion for others and their expectations?

In Don’t Be Nice, Be Real, Kelly Bryson’s advice is simple: “Only give or do things for others if you can do so with the kind of joy a little child feels when feeding a hungry duck.”

If you listen to other people longer than you want to; if you are constantly thinking about how to say things without upsetting people; if you do everything you feel obligated to do; then Bryson suggests you put your relationship with yourself first so you can respond with genuine compassion to the needs of others.

How? He teaches “nonviolent communication,” a method of relating to others founded by Dr. Marshall Rosenberg (see interview in Networking Times, Jan/Feb 2006). In nonviolent communication terms, N.I.C.E. stands for “No Integrity or Congruence Expressed” or “Not Into Communicating Emotion.”

To give in or give up on my own needs is a form of violence to myself and my relationship with the other. Don’t pay the price of being nice. Not speaking up for yourself is a choice you make to kill what’s alive in you, usually as an attempt to buy love and acceptance. It never works.

In the tradition of Ayn Rand, Bryson advocates “enlightened selfishness” or the importance of protecting yourself from self-abandonment. It never pays to sacrifice your needs, no matter how pure the intention to give seems to be. By the way, this is not the same as stretching to contribute to someone else’s well-being. But if what you are about to do is not solely and completely for your own joy and satisfaction, don’t do it! It’s not so much what we do but what we feel that determines the consciousness and energy we bring to the world.

Powerful and often funny, this book promotes an understanding of and life commitment to two seemingly opposite values. First is a fierce, passionate love for “me first and only.” Second is a universal human need to experience and practice compassion with all life forms. If you are ready for a paradigm shift, Bryson provides the skills and approaches that allow you to fulfill both.

Paperback, 337 pages, $15.00; Elite Books, 2004