Wednesday, September 12, 2012

The Kindness Project: On Being Nice



When school started up two weeks ago, one of my roles involved reviewing the school handbook with my homeroom students. I co-advise a homeroom with a colleague and so on day two, she reviewed the “Expectations and Guidelines for Student Behavior.” (Fun!) Policies on bullying, disorderly conduct, after school detention, suspension, disrespectful behavior to others, blah, blah, blah. And after every new reviewed point, my colleague would conclude with “Just be nice. Everything boils down to JUST BE NICE.”

Just be nice.

Since then, I’ve adopted those three little words as my motto and as the motto of my classroom. I shout it out to my students as they leave class, remind nag them with it when they start talking junk, throw it in their faces when my second-graders seniors try to take someone out with crumpled paper. My kids are convinced I’m nuts (nothing new). One of my kids shakes her head every time and says, “That’s not going to happen with this class, Mrs. Miller.” Whatever. I pound my palm into my lectern and retort, “We’ll see about that.”

Just be nice.

Yeah, I know. It sounds dumb and simple and na├»ve, but that’s not stopping me from trying. And I know full well that I have to model the niceness too, some of which is completely natural to me. Picking up pencils when they fall on the floor. Offering kind words to someone who looks like they’re about to burst into tears any second. Paying forward a little kindness by offering to run off papers for a colleague or watching a class so someone can make that quick phone call.

But other times, not going to lie, it’s HARD to be nice. It’s hard to be nice when the same student asks me the same question three five TEN times and the rest of the class rolls their eyes in collective annoyance. It’s hard not lose it when someone asks me for the thousandth time, “Can I listen to music?” when it’s clear he knows the answer.

Or when, after a full day of work and several hours of tutoring and chauffeuring and making dinner and bathtimes and bedtimes, my daughter’s attitude rears its tired and ugly head. Or when my husband doesn’t close the dresser drawers—again. Or my son wants me to play Legos when I am falling asleep standing up after a long day.

Or when my life is scheduled down to the minute and I have twenty minutes to run in to Walmart, pick up a prescription, and run out and THEY DON’T HAVE IT READY.

Yeah, it’s tough to be nice. Two weeks into school and I am already wiped. There are times I would much rather find a hole to cry in than smile and answer questions and curb errant behavior and help my daughter with her homework.

But I’m trying to do it anyway.

(Oh, and just so we’re clear—being NICE does not mean being a PUSHOVER. I firmly believe that there is such a thing as being too nice. And that it has an adverse affect on the spread of kindness . But more on that in a future post.)

And here’s what I find, guys. On the days when the nice factor isn’t as strong, when I don’t feel like being nice but I force a smile and a helpful attitude anyway, the more I pretend to be nice, the easier and more believable and real it feels. Not all the time. But most of the time it makes me feel a little better.

So, just be nice.

I’ll have bad days. My students will have bad days. My family will have bad days. But working toward and modeling perpetual niceness may just be a little contagious. Maybe my students will hear Mrs. Miller in their head the next time they’re thinking about making a bad choice. Maybe they’ll want to do something kind for others. Maybe they’ll work a little harder on being nice.

Or maybe not.

But this whole just being nice thing is working for me.

For now.

So, how have YOU been nice to someone lately?



Too often kindness is relegated to a random act performed only when we’re feeling good. But an even greater kindness (to ourselves and others) occurs when we reach out even when we aren't feeling entirely whole. It’s not easy, and no one is perfect. But we’ve decided it’s not impossible to brighten the world one smile, one kind word, one blog post at a time. To that end, a few of us writers have established The Kindness Project, starting with a series of inspirational posts.

23 comments:

  1. I try to be nice but it's hard when I'm out in public and everyone around me is a selfish, self absorbed idiot who can't see that there might be other people around. Drives me nuts. I find that my level of niceness is directly tied to my patience, and I've never been a patient person. I do try though.

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  2. "Just be nice": so simple and so perfect. I need to repeat this to myself during my commute, when it is so easy to get frustrated with the MTA and my fellow commuters. (Actually, there are a lot of places in which I should remind myself to just be nice, but that one comes to mind this morning.)
    Thanks for this thoughtful post, and for spreading more kindness by writing it!

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    1. Usually - if I fail at being kind, it's because I'm on the road. My impatience always gets the best of me when I'm trying to get somewhere. But I'm trying to be better.

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  3. Great post, Alison. Without even meaning to adopt this mantra(?), I think I've always followed it. I'll never understand people who feel the need to be mean. I guess I figure you'll never go wrong just being kind to other people. The crazy thing is that I've run into people who don't always buy it. It's like we're all programmed to think that people just aren't nice and that any outpouring of niceness is all an act. Which is totally sad.

    Despite sometimes getting walked on because of niceness, I still maintain that it's the best way to go. Thanks for sharing your thoughts on this, Alison. :)

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    1. Yeah, I don't understand why people feel the need to be mean either. It's sad, really.

      And I've been walked on too, but I try to be more assertive in my niceties. And I agree with you - would much rather be nice. :)

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  4. i love this, Alison! Yes, let's just be nice. It's not always easy (and your story of the student with the repeat question or the pharmacy without the prescription is way too familiar!). But it's worth trying. And trying some more.

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    1. It is worth trying! And it is rather infectious. In fact, one of my students called me "mean" yesterday (he was joking) and I sarcastically agreed with him and another student said, "Wait a minute. You can't be mean. Aren't you always the one who tells us to just be nice?"

      Baby steps. :)

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  5. Love your post. And I already majorly failed at this with my husand today who was not being nice. I'll try to remember this in the future.

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    1. At times I fail at this too, but I just try, try again.

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  6. It is so simple, yet so hard. And your idea of, "I'm trying to do it anyway," reminds me of Carolina's tattoo (in honor of Mother Teresa's famous words): Do good anyway.

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    1. Yes. Do good anyway - love that. It'd be nice if we all felt that way. :)

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  7. Great post. Why are simple things sometimes so hard?

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    1. I know, right?! It would be wonderful if everyone adopted that simple philosophy.

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  8. Great post, and great reminder, Alison. Sometimes it's easy to get busy and impatient, and then I forget to think of others the way I should.

    This morning my husband walked my daughter to school so I could finish getting ready, so when I met him at her assembly, I had a nice hot mocha in hand, just for him. So yes, I'm a NICE wife (at least I try to be!).

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    1. You ARE a nice wife! And impatience is what gets me - that's where my unkind side rears its ugly head, but I try to keep that side of me in a cage.

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  9. Seriously, that should be a tattoo on the back of everyone's hand. If before every decision we all stopped to think, "just be nice..."--well, can you imagine? Beautiful sentiment. It's tough to be nice sometimes, but we should do it anyway. Just thinking those words and making that decision to do the kind thing can change our whole demeanor.

    Great to have you on the project, Alison!

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    1. Agreed - about the tattoo, about doing nice things even when we don't feel like it.

      And thanks for having me!

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  11. Very important message...that tattoo idea sounds like a good one.

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  12. I loved this post SO much, Alison. I also love that you have chosen to devote part of your talents to being a teacher. How awesome that your kids have you to count on and learn from each day. And I know we are all human and are going to make mistakes but, just like you said, it is the continued effort, the CHOOSING to be nice that makes a difference and builds new habits. I love too that you were able to break it down so simply for us - Just Be Nice. It's perfect <3

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  13. "Just be nice" is a terrific reminder, especially when you're right in the middle of a writing breakthrough and the phone rings yet again! But seriously, your point is well taken. Thanks :-)

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  14. Being a good teacher seems to have KINDNESS written all over it!

    I posted on the Kindness Project and am trying to stop in to say hi to the others who signed up. Glad I stopped in here today to read your post.

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