Janine has a philosophy of life - 'be nice' - that I respect because in her hands it is robust and has a strong emphasis on thinking outside yourself, of service. Janine is an educator of medical staff, and of the many responsibilities she has the most important is giving her students the tools to deal with the complexities of the life ahead of them in their profession. I rang Janine to let her know that I was addressing her topic next and we had a lively conversation on the techniques of being nice and the benefits and drawbacks of being nice.
She proposes that the first thing to do is to ask yourself every day if someone has thanked you for being nice. If they haven’t, you probably haven’t been nice, and you should cast your mind back over the day to see where you could have been nice. I really like this concept because it presumes that the key to social interaction is awareness of your own actions, and it encourages you to be truthful with yourself.
I also can’t help feeling that a daily quota of thanks is a powerful thing to try and achieve every day. It is a positive quota, because thanks cannot be forced from people. But to head off any sense of entitlement, it is your actual actions that are the catalyst for thanks, not the mood or inclination of the people around you.
Because, once you are actually nice every day, the next step is to be nice to people who are nice to you. If you are extending a level of niceness towards people and they are not extending the same level back to you as a minimum, stop. Stop being nice. Don’t attack or withdraw, but stop, stand your ground and stop wasting all that nice on people who can’t reciprocate. This concept I admire because it is an anti-Doormat rule and it places an emphasis on being nice to yourself as well as to others.
I like the idea of stopping and standing because it brings strength to this positive agenda. It puts a value and a price on being nice, and it encourages you to value the work you are putting into your life and recognize it in the people you interact with. It is a positive and supportive feedback loop.
Which does mean however that once you have put your foot down, you do have to speak up. The question to ask is ‘What have I done to make you treat me with such unkindness?’ The circumstances may require the How, Where, When or Why variation of this question, but Janine feels a basic enquiry is a good way to learn more, to challenge your assumptions that the lack of niceness is deliberate rather than situational. It is a final exercise of respect, letting them make a case for their actions so that you may learn more about them and yourself.
As a framework for evaluating the actions of others, I think these ideas could be a strong and positive guide for discussion and assessment. And I would like to apply them particularly to the notions of civil society, both of the society that prizes civility above all in its participants, and the society that is civil to all the citizens it involves and influences.