Be nice. That’s easy to understand, but sometimes, difficult to do. What does it mean to “be nice”? I never gave it much thought until I had lunch at a restaurant in Fort Lauderdale several years ago. The restaurant’s slogan is “be nice” and they have bumper stickers with this motto for anyone to take. I took one and instead of placing it on my car, I affixed it to a piece of brightly colored paper and placed it on my desk, where it remains. There are lots of ways we can be nice to other people, including people we don’t know. For example, we can smile, make a friendly comment, wave, and offer assistance to those we encounter in our daily lives. David and I recently visited Memphis, a place we enjoy visiting for many reasons. We were waiting to board a downtown trolley when a shabbily dressed man, reeking of alcohol, stumbled as he was disembarking while using a cane for stability. I reached out my hand to help him, smiling as I did so. He smiled in return, placed his hand on my shoulder, and wished me well. The trolley driver observed our encounter in amazement and rewarded my kindness by waiving the ride fee for both David and me. Other people may have acted differently in the presence of this man, but I decided being nice was in everyone’s best interests. We can also be nice to those who are closest to us. Being a good listener, showing empathy for our loved ones, sharing resources, and importantly, forgiving people who have slighted us, go a long way in terms of being nice. In contrast, being a “know it all,” dominating every conversation, looking out only for oneself, and holding grudges are not good ways to maintain relationships. All of us have choices in life and it is just as easy to be nice as it is to be mean. Be nice!
The opposite of being nice, that is, being mean, seems to have a much higher degree of visibility. Mean sells, mean makes the news. The increased political polarization of our United States seems to increase meanness, and decrease niceties. For some, the example of “leaders” behaving badly translates into a belief that those behaviors are acceptable, or even normal. The mean behaviors then make the news, whether due to road rage, insecure feelings, or general fears. Some research is emerging that the political strategies to scare people are working, people are scared; as a result, some hideous events take place. Nice seems, in some ways, quaint. It may not result in any accolades and acts of niceness and kindness often go unnoticed. Melissa’s example of extending some kindness to a stranger is one form. It would have been easy to ignore the drunk guy as he staggered off of the trolley. Everyone else was and only Melissa offered to help him. Nice comes in many forms. Sometimes it is as simple as smiling as we interact with strangers, making eye contact, or just saying hello. Paying attention to those who provide services in retail businesses, hotels, or those encountered when traveling can yield both intrinsic rewards, and occasionally, as Melissa noted, extrinsic rewards, like a free trolley ride, or maybe a hotel room upgrade. My dad had an amazing repertoire of jokes, some better than others. He often engaged people with his riddles or jokes to the dismay of my mother and others who had seen the “act” before. But, another way to view those interactions is to view them as his way of being nice. He was engaging people outside the norms of the interactions. He may have been paying his lunch or dinner tab at a restaurant, but he was interacting with the cashier directly as a person. Nice is about sharing our human experiences in the world in a positive way. There are at least 2 ways to engage in most interactions, nice or mean. Which will it be?