Would It Kill Ya?

“What did I do wrong?”

You’ll have to pardon me for over-simplifying.  I’m busy training a puppy, and all lessons need to be reduced to basics to minimize the time required to learn them.  Ready?  If you treat people nicely, they are more likely to cut you some slack even if it’s against the rules to be nice back to you.

I don’t understand why this is such a difficult concept for people to grasp, and sometimes that irritates me.  Well, at other times I understand.  People are animals.  Animals display aggression behaviors (though they are often bluffing) when stressed.  That is why folks might burn a car or break windows after a highly promoted sporting event.  If you pack thousands of them in close proximity during an event ritualizing killing (ball game), then turn them out on the streets after telling them their team (their family) is dead, so GET OUT, some of them won’t handle it well, especially the ones you sold beer to.

My father was a charming man.  He had very little formal education, and he grew up impoverished and abused.  Still, he was nice to people who had more than he had, and they kept giving him work despite his addiction to alcohol.  One of my earliest jobs was washing glasses and cleaning shoes at the bar adjoining a golf course.  Dad was the bartender.  It bothered me that these wealthy fat guys in ugly clothes spoke to him like he was some sort of house nigger.  Sorry about my bluntness.  Anyway, despite the way they acted toward him, he was nice to them, and they bought him drinks and even took him out on the golf course in their carts and played with him, which was completely against the rules.  I just washed and scraped mud and glowered at them, so of course in a couple of months they fired me.  I’m not a real fast learner.

I finally came to understand the power of treating people nicely when I was in high school.  Crowds were in the streets protesting our participation in the war in Vietnam for some of the same reasons they are now occupying Wall Street.  The war had gone on too long and cost too much, and vets were returning wounded and addicted and unable to get jobs.  People had a sense they had been lied to and cheated by the government, and that government and big business were colluded in the war, to make a profit.

Bernie Boston’s “Flower Power” (1967)

The media were portraying the protesters as naïve and unfocused.  But I saw things happening that were too close for the news cameras to catch.  You’ve probably seen photos of hippies putting flowers into the barrels of rifles.  What I could see, being a teenager in those crowds from time to time, was that most of those pointing the rifles at protesters got choked-up and teary.  They were upset at having to point guns at people who were being nice to them.  When I saw that, I knew the war would end sooner.  If you declare peace face-to-face, you are one important step closer to declaring it everywhere, between everyone.

So I began being generally nicer to people.  I wasn’t always being honest, but hey, fake it till you make it.  I got hired for jobs I was not qualified for.  I sold all kinds of items to people who kept coming back to buy from me because I was nice to them while they were in the store.  The success of this method was baffling to many of my hard-core, aggressive superiors at work, but they allowed me to continue because I out-sold the “closers”, the guys who tried to push people into buying.

These days I try to be nice to people when I’m performing exams at the Urgent Care.  We are a small clinic with less than ten employees, but we get a lot of business because at the ER of the nearby hospital the staff are too stressed and rushed, and they don’t always speak nicely to their patients.  People go to that hospital, then they come to us and they don’t ever want to go anywhere else.  We can’t do everything the hospital can, and we aren’t the cheapest clinic around either.  You get my point.

I realize it is a bit cliché to offer flowers to the police, but it’s still advantageous to be nice to them.  It can go a long way toward avoiding arrests and citations.  Yes, it’s difficult to remember when you are stressed by being told what to do by a uniformed person with a gun.  Try empathy.  Think about how hard a cop’s job is to do well.  A policeman pulled me over some months back.  My license plate tags were expired, which I hadn’t noticed.  I thanked him nicely for making me aware of it, and apologized, and spoke to him with a tone of respect.  He closed his ticket book, pulled off his sunglasses, and said, “Get it taken care of, okay?”

I’ve read two interesting versions lately of ways one might deal with the police during a protest.  Myra, who’s over there on my Blogroll, wrote about getting arrested at Occupy Wall Street.  (here’s her article/)  Then I read the one written by the activist-author Naomi Wolf that was on Freshly Pressed, though it was a reprint of her essay in The Guardian six days ago (here).

Naomi made a huge deal out of the fact that she wasn’t doing anything wrong, but she was arrested anyway and put in a cell that had stains on the walls, and had her phone taken away (they do that in jail), and she’s a journalist, and was wearing an evening gown blah blah blah.  All she would have had to do was move a little off the sidewalk when the cop gave her an order, but she “couldn’t will herself to”.  The video of her arrest also shows me something different than her version of it in the article.  Wolf writes that the policeman shot her a look of “pure hate”.  To me he appears to be primarily irritated that he has to deal with this situation.

Now I don’t disagree with Naomi Wolf’s view that sometimes police use “Stalinist” tactics, and that it is terrible and wrong when brute force is employed against peaceful, law-abiding protesters.  However, the use of excessive force is nothing new, not even in this country.  People were animals long before they wrote the Bill of Rights, and they still are.  It’s possible Naomi is too young to remember what real police brutality could be like against a non-violent protest.

Myra, on the other hand, was passing through the Occupy crowd, accidentally pushed over a barricade, was detained and released, spoke nicely to the cops, and they let themselves be photographed with her for the blog!  I would definitely call that a survival adaptation.

Our puppy still has moments when she tries to test me to see if I am as big a dog as she is.  If she’s too wound up from playing, she will jump up at me and try to nip the sleeve of my jacket.  I keep saying to her, in as calm a tone as I can,

“Be nice.”


Filed under Ethics and Morality, photos

34 responses to “Would It Kill Ya?

  1. Mike,

    You really nailed it. Being nice is powerful.

    The Dalai Lama always says if you want to be selfish be “wisely selfish” by being kind. It’s what helps you and everyone in the end.

    This line stood out strongly for me: “If you declare peace face-to-face, you are one important step closer to declaring it everywhere, between everyone.”

    Now, back to making magic. 🙂

    • Thank you so much, Sandra. I don’t always have a favorite line in what I write, but that one was my “baby” this time. We really were on a similar wavelength today!

      (Sandra has a great post up about doing things and making choices to magically transform your life and everyone else’s. COOL.)

  2. Oh God, you’ve been talking to my wife, haven’t you?

    Her Power of Nice has totally trumped every Prince of Evil trick I can come up with and kept us together for 20 years.

    Thanks for posting this.

  3. Thank you for the education about the Chicago riots. Unlike, Naomi, I am not too young t remember, just politically ignorant. Hard to believe. I totally support the Occupy Wall Street movement. While there can certainly be improvement on both sides, such videos make it clear that the whole scene has come a long way since the Chicago riot!

    Like you, I was stopped, but for speeding. I was late for a doctor’s appointment, had just left the house, and was blasting through the neighborhood to get out of there. When the officer stopped me, I explained the situation and said “you are right” to everything because, well he was. I was not just trying to get out of the ticket. He brought me back consciously to the reality of the situation whereas before, I was on the “rush, rush, rush” autopilot.

    I think, being nice is a reflection of living mindfully and consciously and making choices about how you are going to react and behave at any given moment in any situation. Be the change you want to see.

    • I was rather clueless myself. I just happened to live during interesting times, and I recognize things going on now that are similar.

      I agree with you about niceness being an avenue of compassion and change, and I appreciate having your deft observations, Debbie.

  4. Oh, and BTW – he did not give me a ticket! Yipee1

  5. 10/10 Mikey – you nailed it!

    • I thank you, oh spirit of the island and forest.

      • When I saw “Bernie Boston’s “Flower Power” (1967)” it brought tears to my eyes. Despite the media portraying the anti-war protesters as naïve and unfocused we were anything but that and you and I know that. I was active in the underground movement that assisted those who refused to march off to kill in Viet Nam with escaping to Canada. I’m proud of what I did. That time was a pivotal time in my life when I commited to peace and learned how to meditate.
        “If you declare peace face-to-face, you are one important step closer to declaring it everywhere, between everyone.”


        • I hold some hope to live long enough to hear people of the current generation of young people reminiscing in similar ways about when they marched on Wall Street, helping to change people’s orientation toward profit with acts of social justice and non-violent protest. Thanks for the glimpse into your heart, TT.

  6. “What I could see, being a teenager in those crowds from time to time, was that most of those pointing the rifles at protesters got choked-up and teary.  They were upset at having to point guns at people who were being nice to them.  When I saw that, I knew the war would end sooner. ” beautiful to hear a different side to this story.

    Being nice is an art and not many have it. But it’s true a simple smile, a calm respectful tone and sometimes just agreeing with the other person gets you a long way.

    I find just by saying “yes you’re absolutely right, I do apologise” does the trick. It closes the hostility, smooths things over and opens the door to a calmer attitude. 🙂

    Glad I landed here… Great space you have here. 😉

    • Thank you so much, Aneesa. I’m delighted you’ve enjoyed your visit. New guests here who have their own sites do not leave without a little gift!

      (Aneesa aka “Princess Lalla” is a young Glaswegian merging the best things she finds in many cultures. Her site is full of animation and pictures that sparkle, but her writing sparkles too! I got a sense of great light and optimism looking around there. I do not think the rain in her area will extinguish it:
      http://itsmythoughts11.wordpress.com/ )

  7. Catch more flies with honey than vinegar, as they say. 🙂

    • Indeed. I ought to have learned it sooner. At least I know it now. Thank you, Robyn.

      By the way, your 15 yr-old deserves every congratulation. Some people actually thrive in, maybe even because of, difficulties. Her resilience is a mighty useful quality to have.

      • Thank you Mikey. She was 15 when it was “all happening” and she turns 17 next month. A lot happened in her young life between the ages of 9 and 17. You are right, her resiliance is amazing.

  8. garbhchu

    This is an excellent post and one that stirred up some unexpected emotions as I have been very badly hurt in the past by ‘nice’ people: i.e. people who are very able to enact all the socially prescribed behaviours of ‘niceness’ and then turn those around to do very hurtful things. Like a dog badly trained, I’ve come to distrust ‘nice’ behaviour and look for what I would call genuine kindness and respect. It usually does not look the way I (at least) would expect.

    I also used to act out of the philosophy that no matter what other people did, if you act out of kindness and respect then everything would be fine. I’ve come to see things in a very different way now. I guess the best way I can put it is ‘be ye wise as serpents and harmless as doves,’ though I think there are times when harmlessness can be abandoned with both good reason and good results.

    I’m not really disagreeing. It’s just really complicated … Thank you!

    • It’s a great compliment when my stories cause an emotional reaction. That happens in unexpected ways, but it’s usually for important, good reasons. It IS complicated. I completely agree with you on that. Niceness and acting ethically aren’t the same thing, though they compliment each other when both are true. Authenticity, honesty, clarity, it takes a lot to make a healthy, mature adult. I’ve had to battle evil, charismatic people at times myself, and politicians regularly disguise their worst motives beneath a winning manner, a form of deceit they accept as a skill-set.

      But like with the dog, you have to start somewhere in shaping wildness into decency for cooperative purposes. I’m teaching her to pause first when the impulse to be aggressive pops up. I’m reducing niceness to basic co-existence behaviors.

      Thanks for opening up, garbhchu.

  9. Ditto to Sandra’s comment–that was my favorite line, too! I also had an experience being pulled over years ago for a traffic violation. My daughter was a little girl at the time and she was distressed by the officer coming to the car window. As he stood there checking my license, I explained to her that he was doing his job to keep us all safe, and that I had made a mistake so it was a good thing he stopped me. I guess I made a good impression because he let me off with a warning. Really, people just want to be treated with kindness and respect. We all do. Great article.

    • I’m glad you liked it, and thanks for sharing your story, Galen. I’ve had a few encounters with police that I handled less well than I ought to have, but I’ve improved through conscious effort and trying to see things through their eyes.

  10. i show respect to those who show me it but false nice doesnt suit me if im nice i mean it if im mean i mean it too for a purpose but nice much better its a cruel harsh world made that way by humanity xxjen

    • I understand, Jen. You prefer to offer your real emotions. I prefer it too, but having been in sales and acting, I have the knack for assuming a role that isn’t always me. I guess I am just a nice guy who initially learned the wrong way to behave.

  11. So first, puppy is adorable! She looks like one of those pups who could get away with a lot, if given the chance.

    Second, this post is one of my faves. So simple, yet so hard for people to grasp. I might be a little sensitive about this topic, (As a kid, I practically had to be carried out of the movie theatre when I couldn’t stop bawling because the other reindeer were making fun of Rudolf), but I just don’t understand why treating others with kindness seems to be the exception rather than the rule?
    Not to say that I’m Mother Theresa or anything, but at least I TRY to treat everyone equally.

    I also TRY to limit my public FB mocking to those who I find are extremely patronizing toward others. Sometimes the occasional naive oblivious one slips in there. But that can’t be helped. 😉

    • I think when one is as clever and as sensitive as you are, B, it takes some restraint not to wield humor as a weapon. I grew up in a family of sarcastic wits myself, and had to consciously learn to emphasize the silly over winning. I think you’ve learned how to do the same. Absurdity is just as funny, and it’s more of a pie in the face than an arrow.

  12. Matt

    I keep checking out your blog every now and then through your comments on another one and I always appreciate what you share! Thanks:)

    Oh, after you wrote, “Be nice,” the only thing I could think of was ‘Road House’ (great movie…) where Patrick Swayze’s character is advising how to prevent fights from breaking out in the bar.

    • Thanks, Matt! I love reading, and commenting is sometimes as valuable a practice for me as writing posts. Wouldn’t it be cool if books allowed that instant interactivity? There’s so much I wish I could say to my favorite authors from centuries gone by.

  13. I agree. And I strive to be nice. But it’s hard to do it all the time. Even for me, who is a very lucky person and to whom empathy for others seems to come easily.

    But nobody’s perfect and we are all guilty of not being nice some of the time – same goes for our friends and our families no doubt. But with ourselves or our loved ones we understand why and we try to forgive. So if we can do this for them or for ourselves, why can’t we do so for others?

    Also, understanding can help you realise that a lot of ‘not nice’ behaviour is not really intended as not nice at all. If we removed all the perceived not-niceness the overall actual not-niceness would be much lower as would any subsequent retaliation. Sorry. That got a bit confusing. I hope you get my gist.

    • I think I understand, Denise. Part of allowing our better impulses to emerge is practicing more direct, simple behavior. If we are as we seem, others trust us more easily, and it facilitates cooperation. Good point!

  14. Pingback: The Best of Mikey (so far) | Invisible Mikey

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