Wednesday, September 19, 2012

I'm Nice

That Biblical nice guy. 
Today, in my writing class, I asked the kids to write about the first memory they have of having felt proud. I asked  them to go as far back as they could -- to do a little personal archaeology -- and dig up a moment that still remains in their heads, no matter how trivial it might seem, and blow the dust off of it in order to figure out the nature of their own histories.

As usual, I wrote with the class, remembering a time in grade school -- a day on the playground. The children were being mean to a "new kid." He was a little chubby and he looked like he could have stood a bath, but I remember having felt sorry for him. I walked over, through his gathered tormentors, and said, in the wonderfully unpretentious style that only children can pull off, "Hi. I'm Chris. Do you want to be friends?"

He accepted my offer, and we were off to the monkey bars, walking through a crowd of kids whose chins were now resting on their sneaker laces.

This moment still makes me proud to think about. And, as I hope happened for my students, this gets me thinking about the bigger picture.

Blogs can be full of either direct or indirect bragging. After all, it takes a certain amount of ego just to start one -- to think anyone might want to hear what you have to say about stuff. I see many a blogger bragging and then backing off, to assure his readers that he is really quite humble. But I'm going to brag about something, here, and I'm not backing off. I'm going to say it, our loud, because I'm truly proud of it.

As I look back on  my life, evaluating (you can't call this a result of midlife crisis when you have been doing it since the age of fifteen) I realize one thing about myself: I'm nice.

I really think I have been nice to people. Maybe someone will comment and say, "No, Chris -- you are a real bastard." (My sister? -- but is family an altogether different ball of wax?) Who knows? Sometimes we do mean things without knowing it, I guess. Still, I never actively and intentionally did mean things.

Even as a little boy, I never understood the urge to hurt people's feelings; I never felt the need to exercise my power by tormenting others. It never fit my picture of the world. I'm not saying I was a crusader for good, but I certainly didn't ever participate in teasing and the like. (Maybe that is why I have such a hard time understanding mob-mentality.)

And, you know, I'm proud of this. I'm more critical of myself than many others seem to be of themselves. I'm dissatisfied with many things about my personality, fitness level, teaching, appearance, musicianship, achievements, parenting; about my failings as a husband and as a human being in general. You name it, I probably think it can be better.

In the end, though, I can say one thing with a good amount of confidence: I have been nice to people. That brings me a lot of comfort, maybe especially when people aren't being nice to me -- which has been happening quite a lot lately.

If that is the extent of my bragging in this lifetime, I can live with it. If having been nice is the extent of my meager impact on this world before I die, I'm cool with that, too. If people at my post-funeral-luncheon chat over their sandwiches and potato salad about what a nice guy I was, I'll be smiling in the Great Hereafter. Maybe it is even worth the proverbial last-place finish.

What are you truly proud of? Brag about it -- just a little.


  1. Ah, you drove me to comment on this one... Three cheers for the nice guys! Great perspective; being nice is most certainly enough to define a life well lived.

    1. HC! Great to hear from you. It seems like a small thing, but a little nice can go far, for sure.

  2. First off, I always HATED the saying, "Nice guys finish last." I tell my bf all the time (who happens to be a nice guy) that he certainly didn't finish last because he got ME! Woot! I've always been proud of my niceness as well. There certainly have been times when I was ashamed of it or annoyed by it... I've had fleeting thoughts of, "Maybe I should just chuck this nice crap and be a jerk. At least I'll be cool!" I can remember an incident when I actually tried this and a girl laughed at my pathetic attempt to be mean... so yeah, that didn't last. In my 8th grade yearbook they had a section that was like a "Can you imagine if so and so acted the opposite of how they normally act?" What a topsy turvy world this would be! Mine was "Can you imagine if Elise Trendler was mean?" Hah! No I don't think I can, gosh darn it.

    1. Elise -- if you are the measure of nice, then I need to revise, because compared to you, I'm the devil. I can totally picture you trying to be mean and failing miserably. you win the award for gosh-derned nicest student, ever.

  3. The true test of one's niceness is how long one can stand being alone with a crashing bore

    1. Hm. Well, I suppose that means my wife is really, really nice. It's true, though, Z -- that is a challenge.