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We Need Nice

“If you can’t say something nice, don’t say anything,” Mom told me again and again and again.  Sometimes, she’d raise both eyebrows and say, “Now, be nice.” Even now, sixty years later, her words ring in my ears and hit my heart. Mom knew children; we could be jealous, self-centered, rude, and cliquish.  We needed to be taught, by example and words.

            I didn’t like being told over and over to be nice, but as an adult, a parent, a teacher, an advisor to a college sorority chapter, I found myself saying Mom’s words. And my Grands will tell you, they’ve heard her advice more than once.

            I never questioned what nice meant when I was young.  I just knew.  But when I read 6th graders’ writings about a story character who was nice, and when I sat with coeds who wanted their best friends who were really nice to be sorority members, it was necessary to define the word. Whether talking with twelve-year-old or nineteen-year-old students, I found out that everyone didn’t have the same connation of the word. 

            Nice had to be described by actions, by behavior.  This reminded me of one of my grandmother’s sayings:  pretty is as pretty does.  What does a nice person say and do?

            One dictionary meaning is someone who is pleasant in manner, good-natured, and kind. Synonyms for nice include pleasant, likeable, agreeable, personable, charming, delightful, amiable, friendly, kindly, congenial, good-natured, gracious, sympathetic, understanding, compassionate, and good.  Antonyms are unpleasant and nasty.

            It’s impossible to be nice all the time.  I’m sure some students and their parents would give examples of me as a mean teacher.  We’ve all had experiences when we weren’t at our best – pleasant and kind.  I regret those times.  And we have to bite our tongues to avoid speaking, harness our fingers on a keyboard, and simply not respond when our thoughts are hurtful to another. 

            I started this column after scanning online news reports and social media. I wonder if not seeing the person we’re speaking to face-to-face, or maybe not even knowing that person, removes the filter to be kind.  Being nice and kindness are life lessons most of us were taught when we were children.

            I’ve saved writings about life lessons.  One is a newspaper clipping from a Dear Abby column published in June and it’s worth repeating.  This advice caught my eye because it was first published in the 1960s, a time that Mom came down hard on me when I wasn’t kind to others.  It’s entitled ‘A Short Course in Courtesy.”

            The six most important words:  I admit I made a mistake. 

            The five most important words:  You did a good job. 

            The four most important words:  What is your opinion?

            The three most important words:  If you please. 

            The two most important words:  Thank you.

            The one most important word:  We.

            The least important word:  I.

            In today’s world, with so much division and so many people hurting, we need common courtesy.  We need kind.  We need nice.

What if you break your resolution?

screen-shot-2017-01-19-at-7-55-31-amDid you read the Snuffy Smith cartoon strip in this newspaper last week? Snuffy, a hillbilly who lives deep in Kentucky hills, almost hit the bullseye with my feelings about New Year’s resolutions. Snuffy’s friend, Lukey, asked, “Didja make a New Year’s resolution?”

Snuffy answered, “Shore did! Made it! Broke it! Already mullin’ my options fer next year.”

I say, “Made it! Broke it! Already trying again.” According to a televised news report, only about 44% of the people in the United States make resolutions and less than 10% are successful in keeping these self-made promises.

The top resolutions are being a better person. That includes weight, exercise, breaking bad habits and the list goes on. My goals fall within that wide realm and I was inspired by two people, Brenda and Deanna.

Brenda answered the phone when I called the doctor’s office. She spoke with a cheerful voice. I sniffed and coughed and explained that I wanted to see the doctor. “Oh, honey, you need to. Let me find a time for you to come in. How long have you felt so bad?” Maybe she was asking for information, but she sounded concerned. “I want you to feel better. It’s no fun being sick,” she said. Brenda scheduled my appointment and I was ready to hang up the phone when she said, “Now you take it easy. Don’t try to do much until you feel better.”

While eating at a restaurant, I felt a small jolt on the back of my chair and someone rubbed against my shoulder. I turned and a little girl almost fell into my lap. Deanna grabbed her daughter and said with great embarrassment, “Oh, I’m so sorry. My two-year-old tried to jump from her chair onto the floor. I couldn’t catch her in time. I’m sorry.” Big sister stood close beside her daddy. Baby sister was in Dad’s arms.

I smiled and said, “She’s your middle child, right?” She was and she leaned against my lap. I lay my hand on her shoulder. “Middles think they can do anything,” I said. Deanna nodded, and I told her that I’m a retired teacher and have eight young grandchildren. Deanna sighed. “Oh, thank you. I’m glad you understand.” We visited briefly. Talking about children. Deanne hugged her middle child and said to me, “You have a really good day. We try to everyday.”

Be friendly and nice. That’s my resolution. Brenda could have scheduled my appointment in a business voice and never acknowledged that I sounded sick. Never encouraged me to take it easy. Deanna could have grabbed her toddler, apologized quickly, and headed out the door. My encounters with both women were short. Both made me smile.

Like 90% of people who make resolutions, I break mine. Then I try again to be like Brenda and Deanna. Just take a few minutes to be friendly and nice to everyone. Even strangers. Especially to family and friends.