A handy piece of advice that is disastrously easy to forget
Be nice first.
It can easily be glossed over as a cheesy inspirational quote, along with its sister affirmations “Believe in Yourself” and “You can move mountains,” or any one of hundreds of overused quotes whose meaning and value have been lost in the shuffle.
I don’t want that to happen to me. So I will remember: Be nice first.
I work with people every day. All kinds of people. Young people. Old people. Happy people. Sad people. Angry people. Scared people. Wounded people. People who have hurt others. People in groups. People alone. And everything in between. People are messy. And almost all of them have experienced hurt or rejection or loneliness or shame and built up all kinds of reflexive responses that just aren’t kind. Realistically, no one is always gentle.
We all have moments of intense emotional exuberance that result in the occasional stepping on someone’s toes, being insensitive, or even yelling in anger. We all have relationships that have rifts, friends and family who we have drifted away from because of difficulty enjoying each other's presence. We all have times of loneliness.
There is really only one surefire cure for this loneliness.
Be nice first.
I’ve heard of “Pay it forward.” Let someone in front of you in line. Offer a harried mother a hand. Pay for the car behind you in the drive-through. Live your life being nice first, and people will be drawn to you. And the best part, most of them will be nice right back.
But being nice first is more than just paying it forward. Paying it forward is, in fact, the easiest part of being nice first. It gets a lot harder when life gets messier.
What does it mean to be nice first when my friend no-shows for our lunch plans? Or when I order a sandwich and they messed up the order? What if that mistake makes me sick? Anger comes first. It’s a natural human emotion. I’m not trying to say don’t be angry. That’s ridiculous.
What I am saying is: Be nice first when your anger tells you otherwise.
What does it mean to be nice first when a spouse betrays me? Or my best friend abandons me? Or my child moves halfway around the world and never calls? Sadness and hurt come first. Again, those are natural human emotions. I’m not saying don’t feel sad or hurt.
What I am saying is: Be nice first when your sadness and pain tell you otherwise.
What does it mean to be nice first when I win first place? Or when I get a perfect score? Or when I nail a solo when the guy next to me struggled? Or when I get the promotion I’ve always dreamed of? Or when I am driving down the street in my beautiful new car? Pride comes first. I imagine you know what I’m going to say next.
Be nice first when your pride tells you otherwise.
What happens when we forget to be nice first? Petty arguments. Hurt. Discrimination. Yard sign wars. Divided friend groups. Ostracized people. Angry people. School shootings. Destructive mobs. Crumbling economy. Loss of community. Hatred. Anger. Pain.
What soothes the hatred, the anger, and the pain? Among other things, being nice first. Taking the first step toward forgiveness or reconciliation. Remembering that in order to be happy, I can’t be number one. Cultivate a culture of kindness, even when it isn’t easy. The rewards outweigh the risk.
Be nice first.
*Giving credit where it is due, I first received this advice, “Be Nice First,” on a website selling handmade dolls and inspirational posters. If you’ve never heard of Cuddle & Kind, do go check them out. The work they do to feed children and employ women worldwide is a beautiful testament to the power of community. (And that isn’t a paid endorsement and I don’t get money if you click on the link. I just really like them.)