The Hidden Power of Nice

The other night, a group of us gathered to discuss The Meaning of Nice by Joan Duncan Oliver. What perhaps was the most interesting part of the whole discussion turned out not to be something anyone said, but something we all experienced – the hidden power of nice. After discussing our initial reaction to the book, we started talking intermittently about things and experiences, which were not nice and those which were. What was interesting was that when we were talking about that which we thought was “not nice,” people’s voices, postures, and body language changed. It was as if they were experiencing that “not nice” moment all over again. Conversely, when we talked about those nice moments and experiences, there was again a shift in the energy in the room. You could hear the power of niceness as people shared stories about individuals and organizations, which had been nice.

Last July, Zoe was diagnosed with breast cancer. The last year has been filled with so many nice moments it was hard to know where to begin as the wave of memories washed over me. There was our friend Paul who came, picked us up at 8 am to take us to the hospital for her first surgery, and stayed with me the entire day, while we waited for her surgery to begin and for her to be ready to come home. There was our friend Woody who did the same thing on the 2nd surgery. Then there were all the friends who took me to the grocery store, drove her back and forth to Buffalo so she could finish her last semester of master’s work. The list of nice people is endless. There were the nurses and doctors at the Cancer Center at Unity Park Ridge who always made sure our needs were met and always asked me about things she was not telling them. There were the friends who would call to check in and see how Zoe was doing. Then after I had given them the update on her well-being, would say, “Ok, so how are you doing?” Those moments when people remembered that I was going through this as well. 

Since I lost my paratransit services a year ago, I have been bombarded with nice acts. My chair at Brockport, Dr Barbara LeSavoy who has ensured I could keep my job while teaching my course load online. The customer service staff at our local Wegman’s who bring a mart cart out to our car so I can stay independent and do my grocery shopping. The neighbors, Phil, Larry, Sue, Eileen, Rick and others who pitched in and did for us what we could not do for ourselves during this challenging time.

Even writing about all this is so humbling, as I think about how blessed I have been by the kindness, generosity, and overall niceness of those who have come in and through my life. That is what I mean by the hidden power of niceness. To the person committing the act of kindness, it might not seem like big deal. However, to the recipient, it may be one of those moments, which stays with you for years to come. It may be one of those moments, which made such a huge difference in that person’s life. Then I thought about how this applied to me too. I may never know, nor do I need to know, the hidden power something nice I did for someone has.

When I think about the hidden power niceness has had on me, I find myself praying that at some point in my life, if not in each day, I have been able to contribute to someone else experiencing something nice in their life. May I always have the gift and the intent in my soul to intentionally be nice.