Friday, August 31, 2007

Being Nice

Nice gets a bad rap. I remember a friend from college remarking that we use "nice" to describe someone when we can't think of anything better to say. It is somewhat vague and vapid.

Or, is it?

According to a new book that I recently received, The Power of Nice, this is not the case at all. Authors Linda Kaplan Thater and Robin Koval will tell you that being nice has its own rewards. The authors draw on their personal experiences and stories from others, to illustrate why it pays to be nice.
What does it say when one of the top business books of the last few decades has been The Tao of War? When we are adopting the mindset of looking out for ourselves at work so that we can get ahead, or maybe just survive, can we just shift gears to being kind and thoughtful when we are away from the office environment? Based on some of the behavior I see on the highway, or in public places, I doubt it.
Kaplan Thaler and Koval have developed six Power of Nice Principles:
1. Positive impressions are like seeds. According to the authors, smiling and saying hello, laughing at a joke, and similar simple acts, are ways of planting seeds of positive energy. And this positive energy will grow and expand.
2. You never know. Treating everyone you meet with respect and kindness is important. You never know how those simple acts can make a big difference.
3. People change. Who we are today, is not necessarily who we will be in five, ten or twenty years. The power shifts. And if we have spent our time being nice to those in power, and thoughtless to those who can't help us, we may find ourselves in a very uncomfortable situation at a later date. Treating everyone with respect and kindness is never a bad idea.
4. Nice must be automatic. You can't be calculating the potential returns of your act before you act. It must be automatic and authentic. Otherwise the small but powerful opportunities to be nice to another person will be missed.
5. Negative impressions are like germs. Just like germs are invisible, the rude or inconsiderate remark or behavior will create a negative impression which is not immediately apparent, but will contaminate you and those around you.
6. You will know. If you behave badly to another you will know it. You will feel it every time you are in the presence of that person. It will affect your comfort and confidence.
The main premise presented in the book that I completely agree with is that life is not a zero sum game. There is not a limited pot from which we draw. One person's success does not mean my failure. By giving a compliment or help to another person, I do not take away from my own ability to succeed. If anything it is enhanced.
In the spirit of the book, I will give away a copy of the book. I will draw a name from anyone who leaves a "nice" deed or story in the comments. Some act of kindness or generousity that was done without expecting anything in return.
I will start off the stories with one of my own. Last week, when I was in Colorado, I gave a demo on how to fold origami forms with polymer clay. During the week I was making cranes, planning to give them to the other artists at the retreat. But one evening, some of the staff of the facility where we were staying came to visit the workroom. They had done much during the week to make our stay enjoyable. But the enthusiasm and excitement they brought to the workroom that night was wonderful. I decided that I would give the cranes to the staff members instead.
So, on Friday I delivered the cranes to one of the staff members to distribute. She put each crane in a bag, with the story about the cranes in each bag. I love to be able to spread the cranes around. And this little act just felt right.
Later that evening, a middle aged man approached my table, with a crane in hand. He wanted to know if I was Judy Dunn. He looked as if he was ready to shed a few tears. I stood up and gave him a hug. I didn't know his story, but I didn't need to. Clearly the crane had touched him in some special way. He told me a bit of his story, and how much the crane meant to him. And he wanted to buy three cranes for his family members for Christmas. He wanted to make sure the information about the cranes and what they symbolize was with each crane. He wanted to share the meaning of the cranes. Before he left the workroom that night, he decided he needed two more cranes. It was wonderful to get that sale of a few more cranes. But it was even more special to see someone be so touched by a simple little gift. Even if he never came forward, I knew giving those cranes to the staff there was the right thing to do. He just proved it to me.
Your story does not have to be that long, or involve your art or business. It could be that you smiled at the waiter or waitress, and thanked them when they served you. It could be helping your neighbor, or thanking your child for something they did. The small acts can be just as significant.
You have until midnight, next Friday, September 7, to share your nice story and inspire the rest of us. I will draw the name, and notify the winner. They will recieve a nice new copy of the book to read, and perhaps share with someone else.
Have a nice weekend! I look forward to your comments and stories.


Janice said...

OK - I guess I'll go first. Last September 2006 I was having a conversation with my daughter about charity. Homeless people were a large part of the conversation. We live a pretty good life and it was time for her to have first hand experience at what it really feels like to help others. We decided we would knit scarves for Rosie's Place in Boston. Rosies' Place is a large organizaiton for poor and homeless women. Anyone can google it and see what they do. As the women try to improve their living situations, they go for job interviews. We thought it would be nice for these women to not only look nice but to feel warm. So, out of the conversation developed "Knitting for Rosie's". Every Friday, a group of around 10 11-year olds would come to my house and knit. In the process, we had a 20 something-year volunteer from Rosie's Place (that shows you her committment) come give us a presentation with a dvd to see what goes on there. It was an eye opener for the kids and resulted in a lot of great conversations, questions, etc. It gave us more purpose. We had a mantra - "knit, knit, knit, knit, knit, knit, knit, knit" sung to the music one can hear at ball games. Anytime anyone got to chatty, that's what we would sing!

Amy Crawley said...

I've always believed that you get back what you give. Being nice and showing respect (even when you sometimes have to grit your teeth to do so) will come back to you tenfold.

kelly said...

Hi Judy
I've been reading your blog for a few months. I appreciate your blend of creativity and buisness. Your polymer clay work is beautiful.

I'm writing to share my "nice" story. I picked up a chicken dinner for a friend and her son when I heard that they had just moved and were living out of boxes in their new place. It was a small gesture but it showed her that I understood how tired she was and the prepared dinner helped lighten her load that evening. She totally appreciated it!

Judy said...

Janice, what a great story, and what a great experience for the kids.
Amy, I agree completely. Keeping yourself calm in spite of others attitudes can go a long way.

Thanks for your comments, ladies!

Judy said...

Hi Kelly, What a great gesture. Sometimes, small acts can mean so much to someone when they are overwhelmed. Thanks for sharing! And thanks for the kind words about my blog, and work. :)

Kim said...

Last Saturday I did an outside show here in NC. It was over 100 degrees and every sale was I made was work as I smiled and explained my pieces to overheated shoppers.

The morning after the show I recieved an email from a woman who's co-worker bought a pendant for her as a birthday present. Well, she explained how she lost the pendant somewhere between her shop and the car. She was very upset and could she buy another one from me.

I was reminded of a post you put up a few months ago about an order of cranes you made and sent free of charge to a woman for a reunion or party (I can't recall the details exactly). I do, however, remember the message. Do good things, somehow it will come back to you.

Over the next couple of days I made her a new piece, wrapped it in a nice box with a hand written note and dropped it off at the shop where she worked. The note simply said that I was glad she liked my work and to think of me if she ever needed a gift for someone.

I received an email thanking me for the gesture and making her birthday "extra special".

Although the email made me feel good. It was the act of doing something nice for someone that gave me satisfaction.

Judy said...

What a Nice story Kim. Thanks for sharing that. I am sure you will do business with her in the future, and she will tell many, many people about your generous gesture.

Trina said...

This past summer I was getting some pictures printed at Costco. I was in a hurry so I paid the clerk took my change and hurried out. As I was putting the money into my wallet I noticed she had given me an extra $10. I was in my car by this time but I knew she would get in trouble for an underage in her cash drawer. I took the money back. She said "Are you sure?"
I assured her I was but I had to laugh at the look of total astonishment on her face.

Judy said...

Thanks everyone for your stories. It was great to hear so many examples of being nice, and I know in each case you walked away feeling a bit better than before you acted.
We do have a winner!.......drum roll.......Amy Crawley was picked from our nice commenters. So, Amy, I will be sending you a copy of The Power of Nice. I already happen to know what a nice person you are, but it will remind you that being nice is worthwhile. :) I hope you enjoy the book!