Time to be Nice

At this time of year many bloggers feel the need to put ‘pen to paper’ for the noble cause of commenting on New Years resolutions. There are tomes (do we still have tomes in this digital world I wonder?) of blog posts about how to lose weight, get fitter, stop smoking or just be a nicer person than we were last year.

So what about ‘being nice’? It may surprise you to learn that the current day meaning of the word is the exact opposite from when it was first conceived, when it meant foolish or silly  (for all you “word buffs”, here is a lengthy explanation of the etymology of ‘Nice” : “The Meaning of Nice”). This word is the bane of a writers life. It is seen as a rather boring word. A word that we use when we can’t think of a better adjective. “He was a nice chap”, is almost a damning indictment of the fellow who can rise only to being ‘nice’. Even my fancy piece of software that I use to check for cliche’s tells me ‘nice’ is one and to find an alternative.  But I beg to differ (cliche!) ‘nice’ is a good word to use, a positive word, used as an  adjective it means to be pleasing, agreeable or delightful (Oxford English Dictionary). Who wouldn’t want to be nice?

So in 2016 I am going to be nice. That’s it. That’s my one and only New Years resolution. I’m done with not being nice, that would make me unpleasant, disagreeable and ‘undelightful’. Surely no-one would ever have described me as such in 2015? Well not to my face anyway!

When I researched this post (ok, I just Googled “being nice”) I got lots of results, many articles on how to be nice or to be a nicer person to your partner, to your friends, to your colleagues and so on. Does that mean we all harbour a desire to be nicer than we are? It would be an interesting state of affairs if that were true. Imagine supposedly hard-nosed businessmen, used to outdoing each other in the tough guy stakes, trying to compete with each other by being nice – in a friendly rivalry of course. Amazingly there are some examples of really nice businessmen – I came across a number of articles about the US supermarket giant Costco or more specifically the CEO Craig Jelinek, calling for the minimum wage in the US to be raised – this against the backdrop of Costco bucking the trend and paying its CEO a lot less than Wal-Mart, but paying its employees a relatively high basic wage. That’s nice business leadership. There is a false perception that you have to be cut throat – and therefore not nice – to succeed in business. Look at TV shows like “The Apprentice”  where Alan Sugar in the UK version and Donald Trump in the US version pander to that stereotype, and contestants try to outdo each other in what ends up being a competition to be disagreeable, unpleasant, and anything but delightful. I’d love to see Craig Jelinek take over the duties!

There is even a website where you can sign up to “choose to be nice” – choosetobenice.com! I’m not sure that’s totally necessary but it won’t do any harm – certainly a lot of people seem to have signed up as part of their New Years resolutions. When I thought about it in more detail, it seemed to me that being nice is down to just a few things:

Empathy – the ability to put yourself in someone else’s shoes is not natural for all of us, but the more you try it the more you begin to see the world from other’s viewpoints.

Friendliness – it’s far easier to be friendly than to be unfriendly. It won’t always be paid back, but in my experience most people tend to default to friendly if that’s how they are approached.

‘Smiley-ness’ – there is actually a lot of scientific research that shows the more we smile, the happier we are and that there are real health benefits.

Patience –  For most of this this is a learned skill (I’m still learning!), the phrase “don’t suffer fools gladly” should be rarely used as the fool maybe you if someone just doesn’t see the world as you do. Used together with empathy, patience can help us see new perspectives and even learn something.

Good humour – This seems obvious, but if we can approach all that we do, and all who we meet with good humour it sets a much more positive baseline than to approach life as a ‘grump’ (yes, I am working on that one too!).

Tolerance – Goes hand in glove with patience. If we consider the reverse – ‘intolerance’ – meaning a lack of respect for opinions or behaviours that you disagree with – it’s fairly obvious that tolerance is the better position to take.

Of course with all of the above it does not mean that you have to be a pushover in any walk of your life. Principles are important, and you don’t have to tolerate poor principles, bigoted opinions, or bad behaviour. Not putting up with those things, and making a stand on principles, contributes to making you a nicer person.

 

Smiley-ness

Smiley-ness

I’ve met lot’s of nice people in 2015, I wrote about friendships in my last post, but there are others that come into our lives, sometimes just for a brief time but these genuinely nice people can have a very positive impact on our own perspectives and values. So here is my own New Years honours list of some people who have nicely and positively influenced me in 2015:

Karen Hobbs – friend, colleague, blogger, stand up comedienne and all round nice and very smiley person – check her out here – quarterlifecancer.com  Twitter: @karen_hobbs

Paul Geen – golf coach, probably the most patient person I met in 2015! I will be back for more coaching in 2016 Paul! http://www.paulgeengolf.co.uk, Twitter: @PGGOLFTIPS

The Shakespeare Birthplace Trust (Specifically Mareike in the library) for answering many of my research questions for my novel in such detail – I will be visiting soon! www.shakespeare.org.uk, Twitter: @ShakespeareBT

BMW Motorcycle Club (East Anglia Section) – looking forward to some great rides in 2016. Thanks to Dik Langan for his friendly, smiley and enthusiastic welcome! www.thebmwclub.org.uk/eastanglia, Twitter @BMWClubEA

Wishing you all a happy and really nice 2016!

The Importance of Good Friends

FriendshipI seem to have got out of the habit of writing my blog on a regular basis, as I sat down to write I wondered why that is. Yes, I have been busy, work has been hectic, much has happened within my family requiring my focus and attention over the last few months. But I haven’t found time for some of the things that I enjoy and that give me joy. My writing here, and progress with my novel have all but halted. I’ve become distracted by things that drag me down, which have suffocated any creativity I was developing. It is temporary of course, but nonetheless frustrating that I have not felt able to do some of the things that I find most rewarding.

Having written that opening paragraph, which I will leave as it stands, it now feels a rather empty and hollow thing to have opened with. Because as I continue to write it is only a few days after the terrorist atrocities (I will not give them their own noun – they do not deserve that recognition) in Paris. Surely a time that reminds us all of how fragile our existence can be. That fragility is perhaps a reason not to give up on the things that make us happy, or the people who make us happy and, hopefully, who we make happy. Social media has been awash with messages along the lines of “love will defeat hate” – we should believe that, we should all believe that totally and squash the hatred. I am not going to focus on the terrorists in this post, rather I am going to remind us – myself mostly – of the importance of friendship – a type of love that brings us together and unites us against those who would divide us.

It doesn’t always seem that easy to be happy and content does it? Whatever events occur in our lifetimes, as individuals we tend to move through different phases, changes of job, house moves, sometimes major location moves, looking for what will make us happy. Quite often that is based around people. I am not the type of person that allows too many folks to get close to me. I like to think that I am selective, but in reality, although I am a fairly successful businessman and can network, socialize and “schmooze” with the best of them, I actually find more personal social gatherings and friendships less comfortable. That maybe because in business a lot of it is an “act”; I control what people see and what they know about me. Friends tend to know me better, some of them have been there through the good times and the bad times, they have seen the ‘real me’, or rather parts of me that I wouldn’t share with anyone else.

These people are few and far between. And when you have them it is important to hold them dear. This year as a family we travelled to Canada and then to our favourite part of the world – San Diego – to spend two lovely weeks in what is, for us, a perfect climate. It was made all the more perfect by our friends Ed and Betsy, both former colleagues we have stayed in touch for more than 15 years and in that time our children have become like niece and nephew to them. The night out at the San Diego ‘Corvette Diner’ (without mum and dad!) has achieved legendary status – it was a raucous affair by all accounts! This year our flight timings were not as friendly as usual so, while we waited for our apartment to be ready,  Ed and Betsy threw their doors open to us allowing us to invade their lovely home, use their bathrooms, and play with the ageing but delightful Chloe (their little dog) and on top of that they prepared us a sumptuous feast of all the things they know we like. On the homeward journey it was the same, even giving us a mini guided tour of parts of San Diego. Good friends indeed. Cherished friends.

A piece about friendship would be incomplete without Shakespeare's Sonnet 104

A piece about friendship would be incomplete without Shakespeare’s Sonnet 104

There are no conditions with people like this wonderful couple. At a time when I have struggled with conditional relationships with closer family this is very refreshing, and as I look around and become more aware of those people who have unconditional relationships with me I realise that they are rare, and very special people. It may be the work colleague who, noticing that I had been unwell and then unavailable for a while due to various health appointments checked up on me, for no other reason than that she was concerned about my wellbeing. It maybe the friend who, sensing my unease over something I am struggling with, places a steadying and reassuring hand on my shoulder.

The people who grace our lives enrich us. We don’t always tell each other anything like that, and maybe we should. It’s not just a case of telling your nearest and dearest that you love them, though that’s important. It’s also about appreciating friendships, sometimes these maybe fleeting as people pass through our lives, there maybe those that are longer lasting but peter out when someones moves, and some maybe lifetime relationships. It doesn’t really matter as long as while we are part of each others lives we take and make time for each other. I’ve tried to do that more in 2015, there are the friends I mentioned above, but I’ve also reconnected with old school-mates; Andy, Sarah, Gill and Terry. Amazingly that was like picking up where we left off, well maybe not exactly as it has been around 35 years since we were last together, but the conversations and laughs did flow!

What I am really getting at in this post is that friendships should be cherished and nourished. In the hustle and bustle of our busy lives, with all the bad things that are happening in our world and the daily gloomy headlines, making time for each other, to talk, laugh, debate, have fun, reminisce, plan the next party or dinner, could, and perhaps should, be some of the most important and central of our priorities.