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

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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.

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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.

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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.   

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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.

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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?

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Hurricane Sandy Hit & We’re Giving Each other The Finger?

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Boats are strewn among houses amid wreckage from Superstorm Sandy in Sea Bright, New Jersey. (Mario Tama/Getty Images)

Over the past week, the news has been filled with footage and updates regarding Hurricane Sandy’s devastation and recovery efforts. Referred to by many media outlets as “New Jersey’s Katrina,” the superstorm has claimed lives and livelihood here and across several other states.  Some lost power. Others lost  homes, business and in some cases, family members.

As a New Jersey resident for over 20 years, I’ve never lived more than 15 miles from the ocean. It’s difficult to comprehend when Governor Christie and others say that most of the Jersey shore is now entirely “unrecognizable”  or altogether gone. Homes, possessions and pets are no more, swept in the ocean along with the twisted metal of entire roller coasters from nearby boardwalk amusement areas.

Seaside Heights Funtown Pier, NJ. Superstorm Sandy 2012.

Much of my childhood was spent on Staten Island (also greatly impacted by Sandy) where trips with family to head “down the shore” made me lose sleep with excitement.  Through the years, there were strolls along the shore, enjoying boardwalk taffy and bonfires and of course, plenty of swimming. One unusually hot April day a few years ago brought hundreds of people to the shore. I joined them on Sandy Hook, one of my favorite places, grinning ear to ear at the pre-Memorial Day delight of wearing suntan lotion.  Just a few days before Sandy hit, I sat on the Point Pleasant beach and watched the wonderful sunrise.  I made the rest of that day a “beach day” as I drove through Spring Lake, Ocean Grove and then along Ocean Avenue passing through Monmouth Beach, Sea Bright and finally, Sandy Hook.

Yesterday, I spoke with a friend who is now in a hotel room miles away, unsure of the status of her Sea Bright condo.  Low-flying  Coast Guard helicopters are a routine sound as are the sights of the National Guard waving people through blocked intersections, downed poles and buckled streets.  Parts of the shore do not exist.

Sunrise, Point Pleasant, NJ October 26, 2012

Point Pleasant beach October 26, 2012

Yet while many people have pulled together to assist others by making monetary donations, volunteering at soup kitchens or donating food and clothing, there are those who have exhibited shockingly appalling behaviors.  Their childish “woe-is-me-and-nobody-else” whining and unwarranted rage (although, is rage ever warranted?) towards another person is an embarrassment to the human race, a shameful reflection of character and very, very disheartening to observe.

Actually, this could be said about behaviors in response to Sandy’s devastation just as much as it could be about how many people handle an ordinary day at work or home. A perpetual bad attitude, the inability to respect others and throwing their hands up in the air at adult life responsibilities, especially at times like this, does not demonstrate confidence and courage but rather cowardice and crudeness.

I say this because of what I observed yesterday: Big time road rage while waiting in a local gas line for over an hour. The man behind me could not help but to block the intersection and it was enough to set off the woman on the side road trying to cross. She had enough. She actually got out of her car, pounded her fist repeatedly on the man’s van door and hood, then shouted that he shouldn’t have blocked the intersection.  I couldn’t help but tremble as I watched from my rear-view mirror, her tone and frowns as deep as her impatience and lack of respect. The driver basically ignored until she returned to her vehicle. This of course, caused others to yell from their windows, a domino effect of anger that is often seen spewing forth from little minds trying to make big moves.

I spent the rest of my wait feeling nervous inside, listening to yells and honks and watching angry fists and fingers rise towards the glorious sky.  Just as I got to the tank about 30 minutes after this incident, a pedestrian came running up to a nearby police officer. She was breathless and near tears as she informed him that a fight was about to break out.

Moments later, my tank was filled. The instant I left the station, I felt lighter inside. Forget gas, I felt more grateful to have escaped near-riot experiences.  Yet my heart felt deeply saddened.

Entire boardwalks, homes and business are forever gone, the National Guard is in our own neighborhoods and for some, family members have died or are missing. We are all, in our own way, struggling. And yet, many folks—likely the same kind of folks who are bothered by sunlight but wait for someone else to buy them sunglasses, the same kind of folks who complain rather than contribute, the “I’m the only one in the world (or region, or mere moment)”—these people have nothing better to do than yell and pound their fists in anger all in their attempt to get ahead and ironically, move forward with their lives in peace and happiness.

We’re in this together, everyone. Not just concerning Sandy, but this thing called Life.

Let’s learn to play nice.

Sign in Tinton Falls, NJ November 3, 2012.