N is for…

Nice. Or, Not Nice.

“Little Girl from Nice”
by Berthe Morisot (1841-1895)

I’d like to think of myself as a kind person, and that I might succeed in my desire to live by the Golden Rule. I try to treat people with respect and compassion, and I hope that I’m mindful of the effect my actions have on them. In other words, I try to be nice.

It ain’t easy. When I was a very little girl, I remember my parents, probably my father, reciting this poem to/about me:

“There was a little girl,
Who had a little curl,
Right in the middle of her forehead.
When she was good,
She was very good indeed,
But when she was bad she was horrid.”
— Henry Wadsworth Longfellow

How’s that for something to live down, or up to? Apparently, I had some “issues.”

This is going somewhere, I promise. I do a good job of being nice at work — to the mean people, to the elderly man with Dementia, to the stubborn, to the exasperating high-maintenance customers who assume that I can read minds. I’m nice to the patronizers, to the angry conservatives, to the parents of over-indulged children, and to the people who complain about the design of the free wrapping paper. I’m even nice to the deluded people who have self-published a book that they are sure will become a best-seller. I’m nice to everyone, whether they buy a book or not, whether I’ll get something in return or not, whether it seems to make a difference or not. I can be very, very nice.

But I’ve noticed something lately. Nice seems to be costing me something more than just an effort. It takes something out of me, when it hasn’t before. I’m not always so nice these days. I’m less accomodating. I don’t say, “Oh, that’s okay” to the staff any more. I fume. I turn from an encounter in which I was Nice in the face of Not Nice, and I think black thoughts. I can be horrid.

This isn’t the worst thing in the world. I’m not a complete doormat, and I haven’t been for years. I know who I am, what my limits are, what I want, what’s acceptable. The problem is I’ve begun to reach my limits more often. Some days, even, I’ve had it up to here.

I could blame it on Summer. On the heat, on the crowds, on my long work hours, on the strain my brain and body must endure for these three months. But I take care to minimize and mitigate the toll Summer could take; and still, I’m less nice.

Maybe nobody notices. Maybe I’m just in a slump. Maybe it’s a good thing that I’m more apt to get pi**ed off than I used to be. Maybe I’m finding some power that will propel me forward. Maybe I’m learning something.

My solution to this dilemma, for that is what it is, is to be patient with myself and everybody else. The Golden Rule doesn’t say, “If you’re nice to people then they’ll be nice to you.” There aren’t any guarantees, there’s nothing to expect, and there are no rules to the Rule.


There’ll be talk of knitting next time. Won’t that be nice?