Not my Dad; He doesn't smoke cigars.

The Selfishly Smart Reason to Be Nice

“You can easily judge the character of a man by how he treats those who can do nothing for him.”

—Malcolm S. Forbes.

In line with the theme of the last few posts about how bad we are at predicting our futures, I recently had something happen that reinforced the principle above. I can’t pretend to ever have heard of Mr. Forbes before researching the quote. Nor did my parents teach me this – at least, not directly. I always remember my father, though, as being a nice guy – polite, friendly, and funny. That makes it sound as if he’s not still around – he is, and he still has that quality about him. Along with public speaking skills and an unfortunate predilection for puns I believe I picked up this habit from him, unconsciously.

Not that I’m perfect – but there’s an innate desire, when I’m around someone who I have power over, to make the experience as pleasant for them as I can. Doesn’t matter if I’m the customer (and therefore always right) or a supervisor who has to let them know they’ve been let go or a grandpa who has to drop off the crying boy at daycare – I want to be nice to them. I want them to like me. At the very least, I want them to feel like it’s the two of us against the world, not the world and me against them.


There are a number of reasons, psychologically speaking, that I might practice this.

  • Because my self-image is that of a “nice guy”, and therefore I act to reinforce that belief,
  • Because I’m caught up in a vain attempt to feel like I’ve lived up to my Father’s expectations and example,
  • Because I’m too insecure of ego to risk the potential rejection of anyone, even someone I have power over,
  • Because thanks to meditation I’m so close to Buddha nature that serenity and peace just oozes out of my pores,
  • Because I’m trying to impress the sexy redhead over on the couch with what a swell guy I am.

…and you could probably come up with a few more. Certainly the world is full of cynics who see “being nice” as either a ploy or a sign of weakness. However, recently I was reminded of the true reason I do my best to be nice to people:

It pays off.

Case in point: Several years ago, at a conference, I met a woman from the U.K. who came to one of my classes on performance rigging. She mentioned afterwards that she enjoyed the class, and we had a brief conversation, pleasant enough, about the differences in communities in her home and in the U.S. I honestly don’t remember much about that first meeting, but we became Facebook friends – which is to say that we occasionally sent a “hi!” when we were told it was a birthday, or if something funny came across the public feed.

About a year later – maybe two, I don’t remember – she contacted me unexpectedly, as she had seen on my feed that I was in San Francisco and, as it happened, so was she! Did I have time for coffee? Of course – and again we had a nice conversation, spending the afternoon talking performance stuff before she went back to her hostel and me to my hotel.

Got it? Total time in-person interaction, probably less than four hours. Over several years.

Then I get an email, out of the blue, from a podcast producer from L.A. Seems they’re starting up a dating podcast to be released next year, and my name had come up as someone who had some interesting and constructive things to say about love and relationships.

Three guesses as to who it was who was working as a production assistant at that company in L.A. and had mentioned me? Yep. That same young woman – now a mother and a professional in her own right. They quoted a very generous hourly interview rate which I can earn while still wearing my pajamas (note to producer, if you’re reading this: I promise I won’t be wearing pajamas)(because I don’t wear pajamas).

It does not escape me that I could have been one of those presenters who only talks to people who I can get something from. Or I could have been too busy for coffee that day, or not wanted to take public transportation to her side of town. It’s really easy to simply decide that other people don’t deserve your courtesy or time unless they can do something for you.

But that’s where we go back to the whole “prediction” thing. You do not know. And so it makes sense, given the gigantic pond of uncertainty that is your life, to cast out breadcrumbs of kindness and friendship. Because sure, while some of them will simply sink their soggy way to the bottom…some of them will be snapped up by the magic fish who jumps into your boat and offers you your fondest wish, faster than you can mix a metaphor.

Thanks, Clurra, for reminding me that my Dad taught me well.

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