In Today’s World, the Need for Niceness & Nonsense



Many people have told me that I’m too nice.  And they didn’t mean it, um, in a nice way.

A coworker once told me he was waiting for the day I’d take my arm and in one fell swoop, wipe my desk clear of pens, plants and creative briefs while shouting, “this is bullsh**!”

More recently, when I felt I engaged in adequate office gossip and ceased conversation about the defenseless individual (it could have gone on forever had I not), my boss laughed and said, “Jen, you’re just too nice.”

Since when was being nice—even too nice—a bad thing?

Why the World needs more Nice, Less Mean

Especially these days, the world needs more nice and less mean.  Many of us may not have been hurt physically by the Boston marathon bombings or lost someone in the 9-11 attacks, but still, every one of us has endured pain.  Our souls are saddened, our spirits increasingly shattered with each senseless act.  From the Timothy McVeigh’s and Ted Kaczynski’s, to the horror in Newton, CT and most recently the Boston marathon bombings (let’s not forget the tragedy that unfolds at our local levels – the animal abuser in our town, the rape of an elderly woman a few counties away, and so on) violence is running rampant.

Niceness, while it won’t take away the hurts or bring loved ones back, helps.  It reminds us that while we may be down, we’re not completely out, at least for long.  It encourages the healing process.  It makes things ok, if only for a moment.  From a smile to a random act of kindness and everything in between, niceness counts.  In niceness (politeness, respect, manners – call it what you will) comes hope.


We need more pleases and thank you’s.  Not half muttered, obligatory ones that are said because we know it’s the right thing to do, but because we genuinely mean the words.   Compliments should be extended for the sheer sake of offering honest praise, not because we think saying someone’s shoes look awesome will score us points in the get-a-promotion department.

Don’t get me wrong.  I’ve had my 38-going-on-5 “moments,” have dabbled in my share of below-the-belt sarcasm and innuendo.  In other words, I haven’t always been nice.  I’ve made others cry and hurt them greatly.  For that, I’m sorry.  I have told them—and God—this, and while an apology doesn’t erase the scars, it makes life a bit better, more peaceful and . . . nice.

I’ve been mad, angry, sad and envious, but still, I try my best to remain nice or find the nice qualities in the person, group or situation that created upset in the first place.  Now,  I don’t break out in song when discover Trader Joe’s just stocked a new batch of heirloom tomatoes and I don’t come to a grinding halt to let an old man cross the street five miles away, but gosh darn it, I’m happy and yes, I’m nice.

The Niceness Promise

While I know that negativity, gossip and overall meanness is often an unspoken prerequisite to climbing career ladders or gaining popularity among friends (a great way for insecure folks to bolster their own ego, or lack of, but I digress), I simply don’t have it in me to be a backstabber, to engage in potentially career-or life-ruining gossip . . . to be mean.  Others around me may hold tight to rumors, falsely spreading “truth” based on half-truths, faulty assumptions, questionable sources and foggy observation (of course while professing to have the clout and maturity to do no such thing) but I can not partake in the madness.


So, I will smile at others’ mean spirited intentions, turn from their unfounded words and . . .

I will choose niceness.

And I will continue to be nice.

I will be nice not only to strangers, but to my friends, family and yes, myself.  This means I will not get bogged down in worry of the stock market, rude drivers or a bad haircut so much so that I forget to say hello to a loved one or hold a door open for the person behind me.

If I get the “she better take her coo-coo capsules” stare at work because I think it’s, um, nice to head home for a family dinner around 6:15 after having already worked through lunch and arriving at 8:00 A.M., then so be it.  It’s not nice to not be there for a family who’s always been there for me.  And especially in these “you never know” times when parent, spouse or child could be injured or killed in a mall, theater, school, church or marathon, you can bet your sweet patootie that while I’m highly devoted to work, I’m much more in love with my family.

If any of this makes me too kind, too weak, too sappy, well, that’s nice.   


At home, I will be nice to me.  I will not go crazy over food I forgot to defrost, bills I have to pay or cats that decide to use the litter box just at the moment I decide to mediate in the same room. Of course I stress over bills and fear that I’ve spread myself too thin (who doesn’t?).  I’m nowhere near the bank account, shoe collection or publishing success I’d hoped for at this point in my life, but that’s ok.

It’s OK because I’m alive and that’s nice.   

I will continue to place value on kindness, humanity, good deeds and good people with an emphasis on the level of purity in hearts, not bank accounts.  Degrees of kindness matter more than the ones framed on an office wall.

That too, I think is nice.

I will continue to watch “cheesy,” good, clean “nonsense” shows like 7th Heaven reruns, Wheel of Fortune and Impractical JokersThe Cosby Show and Three’s Company take me back to purer times.  In today’s “remember when we were safe leaving the key under the mat?”  world, that’s fine with me.  It’s nice to go back in time, even though I know we’ve got a ways to go to get back to the security of that time.

Yes, I watch the more serious shows, and I know things about happy little trees and lycopene and extraterrestrial life, but many times, nonsense for the sake of nonsense is ok, even healthy.   Trips down memory lane are enjoyable.  Sometimes going back can propel us forward, too.

That’s very nice.

I will continue to go on with the silly “childlike nonsense” (there’s a difference between childish and childlike).  So I will go on the rides at festivals, not just take pictures of them (or worse, stare at them and ponder the effectiveness of a rusted bolt).  I will continue to make silly faces, and yep, maybe even post them online for no other reason than being goofy just feels nice.



Such childlike ways are often branded as “nonsense,” pointless acts that don’t put us any closer to that coveted new car, that salary increase or a household of better-behaved children.  Engaging in ridiculous actions are simply not what well-mannered adults do.  To that I say (with the craziest face I can muster): silly nonsense fuels the soul, is good for a laugh and gives our worries a break.

Embracing a kid-at-heart attitude is a nice feeling.

The world needs niceness these days more than ever, so let’s keep it going.  If we’re told we’re too nice, then too bad.  That’s the time when you cover your ears and in that sing-song voice, declare, “I doooon’t heeearr you, la la la” and run.  Smile more, fret less.

My wish is this:  May all beings be happy together.

Wouldn’t that be nice?


Back to Basics


The Upside of a Down Economy

My friends and I were reminiscing recently about the good ‘ole days:  learning to type (using honest to goodness typewriters) in high school, the advent of word processors, faxing as a primary means of exchanging business information, and actually sitting down to write our grandmother a letter. With a pen. Using the post office. 

Then suddenly, today’s reality slapped me in the face: It was an email from a business publication announcing that NJ, my state of employment, lost 17,200 jobs in March. Geesh. From there, a domino effect of job losses seemed to erupt around me: one friend in NYC says he’s seeing people being let go every other week. Another just sent a text to say her last day is this Friday.


Oh, to be reading a letter from Grandma now where the “bad” news is about an unexpected snowfall that ruined her tulip garden.

Then it hit me. There IS something good about all this economic stress. And to me, nothing captures it better than this beautifully-created Allstate television commercial.  

Back to Basics

The commercial acknowledges the tough times we live in while brilliantly showing that through it all, people often returnor yearn to returnto simpler, more meaningful times. In the end, they get through it all.

The commercial, “back to basics” shows images of yester years, capturing memories of times gone by. Beautifully-timed, thoughtful pauses make you thinkreally thinkabout what is being said: “a home cooked meal. Time with loved ones. Appreciating the things we do have . . . the things we can count on. It’s back to basics, and the basics are good. Protect them.”

It’s a message that really hits home. Let’s face it, with all the news around us,  isn’t it refreshing to just thinkeven if only for a momentabout that fishing trip you took 5 years ago? That time you and your sister sold lemonade? That concert with a friend? 

Isn’t it nice to pause for a moment and literally smell the flowers (not the ones that glow and glitter via electronic forwarding from a friend, but the real ones)? To get out and experience everything the world has to offer rather than do it with a living room TV bowling alley?

And if we can brave a little self-mocking here, isn’t it a little amusing that a family of, ohjust oneneeds to buy groceries in a vehicle the size of a small jet? Do we not scratch our heads in amazement at national news of a woman so hurt by the economy that she must now simplify by trading in her 5,000 square-foot home in for (gasp!) a 1,500 one?

Less IS More

Somewhere along the lines, society got wrapped up in the notion that more is more. Wouldn’t you know it though. . . turns out that getting back to basics might not be a bad thing after all. In the end, sometimes less really is more. Seems to me that it’s a bit passé, if not semi-comical or even just void of common sense practicality, to hold on to that notion that the bigger the house, price tag or brand name makes one a bigger person. Not today, anyway.

And that’s all I’m talking about it. The point of my writing this isn’t intended to get into the heavy “reasons why”  behind it all or blame the politics behind new presidencies or ones past. Nor is it intended to downplay the significance of a hurting America or discount families severely affected by today’s challenges. And it’s certainly not meant to suggest we enter a world of plug-my-ears-shut-la-la-la escapism.

I’m well aware that thoughts of having home cooked mealsas the commercial talks aboutmay not even be a reality for many, and that time with loved ones could very well mean time spent sitting together wondering where they’ll be living next.

I’m simply pointing out the truth: the basics really are good, no matter how the economy has touched your life, no matter your political party, or that you may hold anxieties about what tomorrow has in store.  

Uncertain times? Yes. But hopefullyif we haven’t been all along anywaywe’re learning to appreciate the value of family and friends just as much as we’ve (now, finally) come to appreciate the value of a dollar.

Here’s to the basics. Grandma, I’m sending your letter out today.   

Jennifer Lilley, 34, lives with her husband in a Cape Cod-style house. She recently had an enjoyable dinner with her parents. Burgers and root beerkept it simple.

© Jennifer Lilley and Jen Lilley’s Thought Buffet, 2009.  Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this blog’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to Jennifer Lilley and Jen Lilley’s Thought Buffet with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.