Being nice: it’s not up there in today’s pantheon of qualities to aspire to where 24/7 bionic-ness, time-efficiency, ever-whizzyness seem to mostly hog the limelight. How many of us actually remember to be nice to each other on a daily basis?
Possibly because being nice has an image problem that would tax even the savviest of brand consultants. Nice as an adjective sounds so ‘meh’, a touch wet , so middle of the road, so boring , unsexy, just so… undynamic.
Also, as the School of Life rightly asserts, for centuries Christianity suggested a fundamental opposition between the idea of being nice and being successful. Successful people, believers were told, were not, on the whole, very nice people– and nice people were not, on the whole, very successful. This dichotomy deeply tarnished the appeal of niceness for anyone with the faintest spark of healthy worldly ambition. Christianity might have been trying to fly the flag for ‘niceness’, but by associating it so firmly with failure, it created an enduring feeling that this quality was chiefly of interest to losers.
Although arguably, being nice is not wet, unsexy or even boring, being nice is not a sign of weakness, especially in the work place, something which fascinates me currently. Being nice denotes a big heart, an even bigger generosity of spirit as well as a total confidence in yourself, your abilities, your friendships and your networks that is frankly, incredibly inspiring. It’s also a way of operating which goes against the grain of much accepted business practice.
Nearly four years into my freelance work chapter, I’ve noticed there is a generally accepted ‘karma rules’ maxim that most people who work for themselves adhere to. You reap what you sow. Being nice and helping each other out with contacts, introductions, business opportunities (even those which might at first glance, seemingly shoot yourself in the foot) will only go on to generate more fulfilling work , better opportunities, genuine goodwill towards you. What’s not to like? It is taking a ‘bigger life’ picture and seeing beyond the end of the week, but also, giving freely in a way that exceeds expectations, suggests to the outside world you have oodles of confidence and crucially, bigger fish to fry.
Of course, a large part of the reason that people don’t give as much as they do or should (and I’m talking re about gestures here, not financially), is because they are anxious they will be taken advantage of. They jealously guard information, are naturally sceptical, cynical and only ever operate on a quid pro quo basis. Certainly, there are many people out there who take constantly, with little thought of ever being kind back. Hopefully we can all tell the difference and we value ourselves enough to know when others are overstepping the mark.
What have I learned? That a career is a long road, even though it might not feel like it in those early years of small children when the overwhelming tiredness and the life/work juggle feels insurmountable. Out of the fog –or is it fug?? – of little ones, a bigger picture starts to emerge.
Some small businesses are paranoid about being copied or try to grow in a way that feels insular, resources are already so stretched they will argue, to which I would say think big and be confident in your creative abilities to be ten steps ahead of what everyone else is doing for they will always be trailing in your wake. Whatever you create by dint of your DNA, will be totally unique. Someone copies you, so what? Everyone knows they’ve copied you. Move on with grace. Do you really want to spend precious time feeling cross?
Instead, don’t underestimate the utter joy and feel good factor of giving freely and instinctively, giving on a scale that exceeds expectations. Imagine the positive impact you will have on others and the good will you will create. Try it. It’s like a circle of the fuzzy stuff, upping your happiness quotient no end. And while we’re here, being nice even on a day to day basis – eye contact, taking the time to make polite conversation – means that you will also bring yourself back into the present. All of a sudden those small encounters, chatting to the postwoman, the supermarket cashier, are more meaningful. Days just flow better.
Think about the wisest, most successful people you know. They are often the most benevolent and respected, firm but fair and always unfailingly kind. They are not petty or mean, instead they are the ones who have inspired a thriving work culture, who know how to get the most out of their staff. As it is nearly impossible to effectively introduce a culture of kindness at the bottom rungs of an unkind culture, it is the generous leaders who needs to model this form of generosity and colleagues from the top.
Because when all is said and done, the way we will be judged is by our decency. Here is one of the loveliest nuggets of wisdom that I have ever read, that made me sit up and take note. It is from Esther Perel and she recounts the sage advice she received from her father:
“The quality of your life ultimately depends on the quality of your relationships. Not on your achievements, not on how smart you are, not on how rich you are, but on the quality of your relationships, which are basically a reflection of your sense of decency, your ability to think of others, your generosity….. about how you treated the people around you and how you made them feel.”