That’s it. Be nice. It’s everything.
Maybe it’s not everything. But it’s something. It’s at or near the top.
It sounds easy. I’ve been accused of being naïve. Being nice won’t solve all the world’s problems.
I’ve also been accused of being a negative dickhead.
Here’s a summary of an email I received from a boss at work many years ago. The subject is not important.
Boss: “You’re being a dickhead.”
Me: “I’m being realistic.”
Boss: “Now you’re being a negative dickhead.”
But I’m nice. Right?
I can probably come up with a max of like ten people who will vouch for how nice I am, one of which is my mother. My mom is really nice. Some of her niceness has had to have rubbed off on me, at least if by accident.
I hold doors for people regardless of race, age or gender. I feel like it’s the least I can do.
I let people in on the highway. Not all of them, but if there is a lot of traffic I let at least one car in. If we take turns it may go faster. I also have no road rage, or at least not anymore. I actually used to be a lunatic when I drove. Yelling and swearing and honking. I have been known to be halfway out of the window screaming and pointing at people. I’m surprised no one has ever pulled me through the window and clobbered me.
I just let it ride now. If you’re in that much of a hurry or whatever I let it go. It’s not worth getting into a whole thing about.
One time I pulled over on an extremely busy street to help a duck and her ducklings across it. I held up traffic for like 5 or 10 minutes. It seemed longer. Ducks are slow and give no fucks. I just didn’t want to see them get squished.
That is nice!
I like the Golden Rule. Something like ‘Do unto others as you would have them do unto you.’ I want people to be nice to me. I should probably be nice back.
I do feel like people should be nice without an expectation of reciprocity. It would be nice if we were all nice but you should be nice and can’t help it if someone else is nice or not. Niceness for niceness sake feels better.
People can be nice through inclusion or omission. One seems better than the other but being nice is actually harder than it seems so however people can be nice shouldn’t be quibbled over.
Are people inherently nice? What is the default setting? Do we come out of the womb nice? Or are people all self centered little assholes that have to be taught to be nice? If people are inherently nice should it be so hard to be nice?
Are kids nice? Of course they are. They’re kids! Kids are nice, right?
Here’s a story:
I was friends with this kid when I was young. His name was also Aaron. I think we met in Mrs. Christiansen’s 2nd grade class. We lived in Oak Park, Ill, and attended Longfellow Elementary School. Here’s the front of the school:
Oak Park is a near west suburb of Chicago. It’s alright but I don’t really miss it. It’s famous for it’s famous people. I am one of them. I’m not famous but I like to tell people all about the famous people from Oak Park. Earnest Hemingway was one of the famous people to come from Oak Park. He was a writer. Here is Oak Park’s logo:
The logo is either a bunch of people interconnected or a bunch of trees. Oak Park has a bunch of people and a lot of trees. Maybe it’s both.
When I was in school most of them were named after writers. I know they changed at least two of the names. One changed from a writer to another writer. My junior high was changed from Nathaniel Hawthorne Junior High to Percy Julian Junior High between my 7th and 8th grades. Nathanial Hawthorne wrote The Scarlet Letter. The book was good but the movie with Demi Moore not so much.
Percy Julian was a scientist of some kind or other. He was one of the first African-Americans to move to Oak Park. The story goes that they burned a cross on his front lawn shortly after he moved in.
Oak Park is a fairly integrated and progressive suburb of Chicago now, or so they tell me.
The high school is called Oak Park and River Forest High School. OPRF. River Forest is a rich suburb next to Oak Park with no high school.
There are no schools in Oak Park named after Hemingway.
Henry Wadsworth Longfellow was a writer. Here is a picture of him:
He wrote mostly poetry, I think. He was part of the Romantic poets. We studied the Romantics in high school. I didn’t understand a word. Poetry is cool, though. I had another friend whose father was a poet. He is a poet. They both have stuff published. I don’t know that I’m smart enough to understand a lot of poetry. Dr. Seuss may be my limit.
I think this Aaron kid was a big influence on me. I don’t blame him for my actions. He may have brought out things in me that were already there. Maybe I influenced him. Maybe I don’t remember it exactly right.
What I do remember is that we were little shitheads in 2nd grade. I know we wrote bad words on the chalkboard sometimes when no one was looking. I specifically remember writing the word ‘pussy’ on a chalkboard in the back of the class once. Pussy! Of all the words to use. Mrs. Christiansen actually caught us once. I don’t remember exactly but I feel like she erased it but didn’t really do anything about it except to tell us to not do it again. I’d like to pretend that I just heard the word and didn’t know what it meant except that it was bad. I’m pretty sure I knew what it meant and did it anyway.
So apparently Aaron and I eventually turned our attention to one of our classmates. She was this little tiny blond haired girl named Stephanie and she was super cute, as I recall.
Adults will sometimes tell little girls that boys will pick on them because they like them or have a crush on them. I actually think that’s a bunch of crap because it allows boys to learn early on in life what kind of behavior they can get away with towards girls that might otherwise might be unacceptable.
I didn’t feel like that. I don’t think I liked or disliked Stephanie. I don’t remember thinking much about her. I suppose it could have been anyone.
It seems like we picked on her all year long. I don’t know that we picked on her on a daily basis. I can remember specific examples, though.
We didn’t have desks or classrooms in 2nd grade. Longfellow had this thing they called a ‘pod’ on the first floor of the school. It was a big open carpeted area. Teachers would build a ‘classroom’ out of cabinets or bookshelves or chalkboards with wheels. They fit a bunch of these ‘classrooms’ into the pod. It was supposed to be some kind of open concept idea – somehow better for learning or something. I wonder if they still have them. I’m going to say no but who knows.
We didn’t have desks in the pod. We sat at these white tables that had big plastic drawers that hung underneath where you could store all your glue sticks or crayons or #2 pencils or safety scissors or whatever we used in 2nd grade.
The tables were shaped so that they could kind of fit together. So they would fit two of the tables together and four kids would sit at them. There would be so many of these behind the first and that would be a row. Then a path and another row, etc. up to like three or four rows. The tables didn’t clasp together or anything so sometimes the tables would separate slightly. There was enough room most of the time to absentmindedly put your fingers in between.
I can remember consciously seeing Stephanie’s fingers between the tables. I can remember Aaron watching me walk up to the adjoining table and smash Stephanie’s fingers between them. I can remember her crying. I wish I didn’t but I can remember not feeling that bad.
One time I put a little metal tack on her chair just to see what would happen. I don’t know what I expected to happen other than the obvious. The tack seemed to hurt her more than her fingers did. I really don’t remember getting in trouble for that either.
We all lived in the same general vicinity of Longfellow Elementary. Aaron and I would walk home together – he lived on the next street. His block and our block was separated by my parents’ house alley. A lot of kids walked home with their friends. But Stephanie never seemed to. She was always by herself. We would all walk in the same direction home from school. When winter came around Aaron and I would see Stephanie and chase her, pelting her with snowballs. The entire way home we would lob them at her until she would break into a sprint to get away from us. And we would laugh and laugh.
I do think that someone must have said something to someone eventually and made us stop throwing snowballs at her. I don’t remember who but there were no detentions and no suspensions or anything. I don’t think I got into any trouble at home or if my parents even knew.
I don’t know how long but for a few years after, whenever we’d see her on the way home, we’d say “Too bad it isn’t snowing out, Stephanie,” and laugh as she ran away. I think she started running away from us no matter what. I think she eventually started walking home on the other side of the street and we never bothered to cross to go after her anymore.
None of that was very nice!
Looking at it in print on this screen I realize how awful all of those actions were. What a little dickhead I was! The irony is that Stephanie grew up to be a pretty and popular teenager, and I grew up to be introverted, morose, angsty and anxiety riddled.
I don’t really have many other memories about being mean by inclusion. I know I’ve been mean by omission and have a story or two about that but feel like that’s enough for now. Sometimes I wonder where Stephanie is. I’d like to tell her sorry but even if she were to give one crap or even remember she’d probably tell me to fuck off.
If someone was that awful to me I’d remember.
My parents are very nice. I feel like they taught me to be nice.
I don’t know that bullying was a thing that people paid attention to when I was young. Now we are all so much more aware and concerned about bullying. It probably helps. I don’t know how mean kids are to each other nowadays but it seems like they can still be pretty mean. Maybe they still throw snowballs. Seems like their more apt to shoot at each other.
Maybe I’m not nice. That was a long time ago. I try.
Start there. Be nice or at least try. Teach your kids to be nice but know that they won’t always be.
You don’t have to be nice through inclusion. You don’t have to be everyone’s best friend. You are under no requirements to even like anyone. The minimum you could do is to just let people be. If they are not hurting anything or anyone you can just leave it alone, no matter how may stupid things they may say or do
The truth is that I am nice but I could be nicer. Ask anyone at work. I’m not always nice there.
I started writing this on Monday. I started being nicer on Tuesday to people I’m not normally nice to. The best I can do at this moment is be nicer through omission. If you don’t have anything nice to say don’t say anything at all.
It’s a start.
#3 – Random