Some months ago I was talking with my son; nothing huge or weighty, just catching up on things. I mentioned to him that a person I knew had done me a much-appreciated favour, one I had neither asked for nor expected, and added that it wasn’t even someone I knew terribly well, just a person I came into contact with occasionally and to whom I’ve been nice over the years.
My son reflected on this for a moment, then said, with only a touch of sarcasm, “Wow, imagine that. If you’re not a jerk to people, they do nice things for you.” (Note: he didn’t use the word “jerk”, but you get the drift.)
It was a small moment and remark in a larger conversation, but it’s stayed with me, in large part because it’s such a simple statement of fact, yet one that so many people don’t seem to grasp: that if you’re nice to people, they’re more inclined to do nice things for you as a result.
Now don’t get me wrong: I’m not talking about being nice to people in the sense of buttering them up or flattering them or sucking up, in the hope that one day you can get something in return. I’m just talking about being pleasant and courteous, treating people with respect, showing them that you value them as a person. It’s such an easy thing to do, and it pains me to realize that for a lot of people this is an alien concept.
A piece of advice that I’ve seen given to women about evaluating a potential new partner is to check out how they treat the wait staff when you go to a restaurant. He or she may be treating you like a princess, but they’re probably trying to make a good impression on you.
For a real glimpse of their character, look at how they treat the server. Do they treat him or her with respect and courtesy, or do they treat them like dirt? If the latter, then that’s probably a truer picture of what they’re really like than how they’re treating you, their date.
I’ve talked in the past about how I appreciate “nice”, and it seems that the older I get the more I savour it. That’s why it pains me when I read accounts of people not being at all nice to others, which seem more common these days. Perhaps the pandemic caused a lot of people to reach their breaking point, or it’s the pressure of today’s world, with money getting tighter and jobs getting more demanding and not seeming to be able to get ahead no matter how hard you try. Perhaps we look at folks in the public eye — certain politicians come to mind — who don’t seem to be very nice people at all, and think “If he or she can treat others that way, it must be okay.”
Or perhaps it’s because our expectations have been set so high that any temporary discomfort or annoyance seems like a personal affront. Many people are now accustomed to getting more or less whatever they want, whenever they want it, and when that doesn’t happen they regress to being five-year-olds, stamping their foot and making sure that everyone within earshot knows how angry and frustrated they are.
All of which is a roundabout way of saying that in this, the season of looking back over the past year and making resolutions about the new one, I would wish for more people to resolve to be nice, or nicer, in the coming months. As resolutions go, it’s a fairly easy one to keep, since it doesn’t require exercising, dieting, or spending any money. You don’t need any fancy equipment or a special outfit or an electronic gadget; you don’t even have to say anything, in some cases, just smile and nod and acknowledge a fellow human being who’s on the same journey that you are. It’s a small thing, but it will make both you and the other person feel better, and happier, and that’s a good — a nice — thing.