I’m on my 5th day of my Year of Niceness experiment and I see an issue I didn’t expect. A friend on Facebook wrote:

“I went to Wal-Mart with my mom one day and was approached by two boys and their mom, they asked if I had any money to help them get a Christmas present for their brother. When I caught up with my mom, she asked if the lady was talking to me. When I said yes, mom said she was approached the day before by the lady. Only the day before the lady had a deaf mute card and couldn’t talk. That pissed me off because it ruins it for those who truly need help.”

That made me think about why I am doing this. My goal is not to pass judgment on anyone, but simply to try to be nice, to put more niceness in the world. Part of my cynicism has come from going out into the world ready to judge rather than empathize. In the case above, my judgment could lead me to figure the deaf guy was running a scam and deserved to be beat up.  Or to require a proof of neediness before I step between someone and an angry person. But with empathy, I can just try to prevent violence because I don’t think anyone deserves to be beat up.

As for money, empathy allows me to give without care to what is done with the money or why. I’m not buying a service. I’m not saying, “I will do this if you do that.” I’m not saying I will only be nice to people who prove they deserve it. I’m not going to let someone from the past who didn’t live up to my neediness expectations enable me to be cold in the future. Rather, I’m just trying to be nice – by doing whatever occurs to me as nice in the moment. My nice may be different from yours. My nice might be mean to you. I don’t know. I’m just going with what I think or feel.

Empathy is a huge part of what I’m doing.

Empathy makes me wonder why the woman in the above example would change her story. I’m guessing she needed money. Maybe just for a gift, maybe for food or rent or electricity or any of the many needs people have. I think about what I would do to take care of Joe. If I couldn’t find a job for whatever reason. Or if that job wouldn’t cover my childcare costs, rent, utilities and food. If I had no one to turn to, no family or friends willing or able to help. Would I beg money from strangers? Man, that’d be really hard, but I hope I’d be willing to do that or anything else to keep a roof over Joe’s head and food in his belly. Would I lie if it meant getting more money? Yes. If survival were on the line, yes, I would lie. Just like any advertising firm or charity, I would look for the effort that brought the best results. I wouldn’t feel good about it, but I’d feel worse watching Joe try to sleep in a shelter. So I guess my ethics are situational. Good to know.

But figuring out what I’d do as the sole provider for children I couldn’t provide for is not my experiment, thank God. My experiment isn’t about whether or not anyone has ever lied to me, whether or not one person deserves charity or another does not. It’s not about what someone does with money I give them. I really don’t care. My giving isn’t connected to a person’s worth. My giving is connected to my trying to be a better person, to be nice.

So, in that spirit, I won’t be judging how hard an individual should look for a job before I help try to find them one. I won’t be worrying about how healthy a neighbor is before I shovel the walk. I won’t be trying to figure out if a person is the kind to open the doors for others before I open the door for someone else. Nor will I judge one person onI don’t have the time, the effort, or, frankly, the discernment to make these decisions.

Category: Niceness
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4 Responses
  1. Melissa says:

    I think Des means that girls get told to “be nice,” which really means “be quiet and don’t make trouble,” while “Bitch!” means “Shut up. If you don’t, I’ll backhand you.”

    I think I do both camps (nice and bitch). I’m super nice and smiley, but woe betide you if you cross me. It actually makes the bitch part more effective because just the way I look when I’m mad is, according to my husband, “scary.”

  2. Laura Akers says:

    Cindie, I really get what you are saying. The fact that there are people who might take advantage of you does not take away what I would suggest is your duty to be kind nd compassionate. The problem is that we look for excuses NOT to be kind to our fellow man, and the fact that we might be rewarding bad behavior isn’t our concern–we aren’t acting out of morality (either ours or that of the other party) because the moral thing to do is to act with compassion, sometime even when we know the other person is undeserving.

  3. Des says:

    Hey kiddo!
    I applaud your experiment. As a beneficiary of some of your acts of kindness I particularly appreciate them. As for empathy, the world needs more.
    Now, this is where I get crazy. I hate nice. I think the two words that have been used to beat up modern women are: nice and bitch.
    Count me in the bitch camp.
    As I read your Wal Mart story, I really thought of you as a warrior, a bodhissatva warrior, which is not about nice, but about compassion and honor. I thought, wow.

    Let us infuse the world with more empathy, compassion, and kindness.
    Loving kindness!

    • Cindie says:

      True. I was avoiding kindness, which has become a cliche to me. I am open to better words than nice. I was thinking of nice because it’s simple, almost childish, almost silly. I don’t know much about the woman beat up. Tell me more?

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Cindie Geddes

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