Please Be Nice

“Be nice to each other. You can make a whole day a different day for everybody.” –Richard Dawson

 

I wonder why it is that so many people find it difficult to be nice. I’m not talking about the Southern gentility of gentlemen opening car doors for ladies, or the young taking the arm of the elderly to assist in crossing the street. Nor am I talking about putting away your cell phone at the table to engage in polite conversation with the person sitting across from you—though these things are indeed nice.

I’m talking about niceness, as in the opposite of rudeness. I’m talking about keeping a civil tone of voice instead of screaming at someone. I’m talking about taking a breath and removing the venom from your voice before answering a simple question.

We all have bad days—I get that. Alarm clock didn’t go off, kid missed the bus, tire was flat, every traffic light turned red, coffee dripped on your suit . . . Murphy’s Laws are ugly laws. The person sitting across from you, however, or the person on the other end of the phone, didn’t cause any of those issues, and they don’t deserve the brunt of your anger. Tomorrow—or even a few hours from now—these things won’t matter. You’ll be on to the next predicament, and then the next, and the next one. What makes each of these challenges easier is to understand that, no matter how bad the moment seems, it will pass, and it’s true that somewhere, someone else is dealing with something much worse than a coffee stain on a new blouse.

But enough with the bromides—except this one: life is tough. Tough for you, tough for me, tough for everyone, but that doesn’t give any of us the right to be mean.

Maybe has to do with my Appalachian upbringing, because where I’m from, we believe it’s our compulsory duty to help our neighbors—even if we don’t particularly like them or agree with their politics, religious choices, or lifestyle. Or maybe it’s because I was raised in a family where I’ve watched my father give the money he needed for his heart medication to a family who lost their home in a fire; or perhaps it’s because I lived most of my life in the South, where hospitality is the norm, and even the meanest comment is often prefaced with “Bless his heart.” Any of these experiences might explain why I’m always stunned, and sometimes even hurt, by rude behavior and meanness.

Recently I completed a simple real estate transaction, and during the very routine process of completing paperwork and legwork, I was screamed at (I’m talking about true, hold-the-phone-away-from-your-ear-to-preserve-your-eardrum screaming) by another Realtor who was angry about something over which I had no control; I was lied to multiple times by a contractor; and I saw a customer reduced to tears because a snappish title-company executive didn’t trust its own title agent (also a notary) to verify a faxed signature he witnessed and notarized. Each one of these upsetting incidents could have been rectified, or at least made easier to accept, with one thing: niceness, a.k.a. honesty and human compassion.

Look, I’m not asking you, or anyone, to jump on the free love, shirt-off-your-back, bow-down-and-kowtow bandwagon. I am, however, asking you to be nice. I’m reminding myself to be nice. NICENESS IS NOT WEAKNESS. Don’t ever mistake it as such. We all know someone in a position of leadership or power whom we can describe as “the nicest person you’ll ever meet”, and we’d never call them weak. Remember that even bad news is better received when it’s delivered respectfully, with kindness and compassion: knowing this puts you in a position of strength and power.

Do you remember the heartwarming, B-rate movie Roadhouse starring the late Patrick Swayze? If so, you’ll recall his lecture to the bar bouncers—the guys who have the job of throwing out knife-wielding, gun-toting drug-smugglers and riffraff—in which Swayze’s character repeats time and again, “Be nice.”

Really, folks, it’s that simple.

You’re going to encounter incidents out of your control today; be nice. You’re going to encounter someone who is arrogant and self-inflated; be nice. You’re going to talk to someone who may be experiencing physical pain, the recent loss of a loved one, a cheating spouse, or financial or emotional bankruptcy; be nice.

If we’re truly lucky, our niceness will be contagious.

be nice

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