I used to work with J. She sat adjacent to door of the CEO’s office and, in eight years of working there, he persistently got her name wrong. He would almost get it right, but not quite – Ann instead of Anna, that sort of thing. It wasn’t deliberate, and J. knew it; she’d long given up correcting him and tried to let it go, but it mattered. I understood why it rankled with her, and why, in a resigned, voice she would say to me say: “it’s nice to be important, but it’s important to be nice.” Which he often was – nice – but in the cut and thrust of leadership, taking time to be kind and nice (for it does take a little time, a moment of pause) had dropped off his to-do list. Putting kindness on a to-do list? Since when has that become ‘a thing’? It’s a good question. Well, why not put it on the list? We have so much else to do in a day that we may as well add it to the list, and (don’t you worry) an opportunity will present itself giving you the satisfaction of ticking at least one thing from your list that day!
But enough of harangued CEOs, world leaders, MPs and any number of high-ranking, important people who get a bad rap for their inability to be nice. The simple value of niceness will occur to them, one of these days. In the meantime, kindness abounds, if we care to notice. It was one of those boiling hot days last week, the thermometer had reached the mid-thirties, when M. arrived into Leeds station on the last leg of a long journey home. Leeds is a busy station at the best of times and navigating one’s way through 5pm commuters in high summer sucks the energy from you. Last week the escalators were broken and M. gazed at the weary ant-line of people marching up the static stairs to where she needed to go. “My heavy bag, in that heat seemed impossible,”she told me. Whereupon an angel appeared in the form of a 20-something man who lifted her bag and moved forward with her, chatting cheerfully,“your bag is as weighty as it looks, what platform are you leaving from?” Platform 8D wasn’t a problem for him and he assured M. he had plenty of time to make his own connection. And that was that – safely deposited on 8D he was on his way.
The stories of J. and M. came to mind yesterday as I listened to a radio discussion about whether or not people nowadays are more apt to both cause offence and to take offence. The question was posed: Have we become a nation of snowflakes? Are we, all of a sudden, too easily offended, or are people simply being more offensive than they used to? I can’t say I heard every moment of the debate as I flitted in and out of the kitchen, but some of what was said stayed with me. “Some people create their very sense of identity through being offended,”one of the panelists said. “The problem comes when people use the term ‘I’m offended’ as a way of saying that they don’t agree with you,”said another. Whist there may be truth in both arguments, it set me to wondering: does a lessening of face to face communication embolden us and lead us to tweet/post/email things we wouldn’t say to someone’s face? When we can no longer see the person to whom we are communicating, is a ‘divert-kindness’ button pressed that somehow makes us less thoughtful to the feelings of others? For, in the whole radio debate (or at least those parts that I heard), there seemed to be an absence of recognising that kindness, decency and just being nice to each are the antidote to both giving and taking offense. Yet, if the commentators on the radio were to be believed, it seems that honesty, authenticity, and speaking your truth have taken a wrecking ball to being nice.
It’s not a big word, and it’s oft derided for being insipid, meaningless, lacking in meaning, but sometimes you just need a simple four-letter word in your daily armoury. It’s important to be nice. Be nice.