Monday, June 13, 2011

Observations, Studies and the Importance of Being Nice

I'm a mom...and a grad student...and a college educator....and a citizen of a community...a person that walks down the street...someone that buys milk at the store or veggies at the farmer's market...I fill my car with gas...I drive down the highway. For more years than I would like to admit, I've spent time on this planet observing people...quite possibly observing you...and consequently reflecting about myself.

I giggle, I laugh, I smile. I like people. I love individuality. I get along with most everyone...and if I don't, I actively work on getting along with everyone. I may not be great at many things...but I do respect people very well.

---Which brings me to today's story.

Today I simply needed a pen. A blue, fine tipped marker, specifically...the kind that is in the supply cabinet at work. The funny thing about this supply cabinet is that it is eagle-eye guarded by two amazing, detail-oriented admin assistants. They are wonderful at their job...and for years I've had a great relationship with them. I knocked at their door and entered.

"Hi! How are you?"

Hmm. No response...from either. Step toward the cabinet.

"I am hoping to use one of the blue markers...may I get one?" Yes...I remembered to say "may," every bit helps.

Hmm. No response. No eye contact. No grunt. I'm beginning to feel a tad awkward....unwelcome?

"Oh, here's one. Thanks so much! Have a great day!" Smile and eye contact both unnoticed and unreturned. 

Hmm...sigh. No response. No eye contact. No nothing. I wish I could say this was the first time this has happened...usually once a week. Am I that huge of a thorn? Maybe...but I bet I'd be less of a thorn if a smile and nod were forced in my direction.

Simple kindness or mere acknowledgement of another's path through this life and the ovewhelming awe that we have the opportunity to share in that is a beauty too rare and too carefully intertwined to ignore or take for granted. One breath, one smile, one gesture can change the course of an entire day.

One such change happened this weekend. We have a 2-year-old...just recently 2. Language and toddlerhood exploding hourly it seems...amazing. In our rushed life...always running late...two little hand pop up to catch our pants and slow us just enough to hear, "I hold you."

I hold you.

Not "hold me." Not a whine. Not anything but two little brown eyes staring up at her rushing parents, "I hold you."

Maybe a language flip...but that statement is so profound for both my husband and me. The words alone, outside of toddler language acquisition patterning, put a giving spin on the statement...a focus outside of self...something we don't associate with infants and toddlers. In fact, we'd expect the opposite, "Me me me!" The famed childhood development guru, Jean Piaget, in fact, touts the egocentric world of the inability to consider other perspectives or experiences beyond the infant's own wants and needs. Our daughter, even if by accident, stopped and gave us want WE needed.

"I love it when you hold me, sweet baby. I hold you, too."

Piaget's description of our planet's youngest humans actually reminds me of all too many adult experiences instead...take the supply closet experience...while I have no idea the experiences and perspectives of the folks that actively surpressed acknowledgement that I was in the room, they put the needs of their immediate task ahead of my own moment of shared experience with them.

DeWall, et al., in a recent publication of Psychology, Aesthetics, Creativity and the Arts (2011), discussed a 27 year analysis of popular songs and their lyrics. Those of you old enough to fondly recall the "We are the World" rendition featuring renown musicians and performers holding hands 20-some-odd years ago may share in my own memory that we are all going to fix the world...we simply have to be a united force, and shared union. In a not-so-scientific contrast, a popular song, "Give me everything tonight" states we'd be better off taking a photo of him...and late touts that he may drink more than he should (and other things) because we may not have a tomorrow. In just those three statements, we have profound narcissistic statements, potentially unhealthy/harmful behaviors and disregard for the future. Whew. This is MY comparison...but the aforementioned study actually looked at the 10 most popular songs according to Billboard for each year between 1980 and 2007. The lyrics were studied liguistically (carefully transcribed and coded, then me if you are interested in detailed discourse analysis, we could talk for hours....) In short, songs are more self-focused, more socially disconnected, more angry and antisocial and less emotionally positive over these past 27 years. Hmm.

Considering many dollars are poured from the music industry into research regarding popular interests and social patterns of its consumers...there are some interesting implications for societal "niceness."

Hence...this blog. I have a simple philosophy...Just Be Nice. This is my space to share thoughts and observations. I'm not a psychologist, but I am an educational researcher....and don't forget, I am a person. Just. Like. You.


  1. Thank you for your blog and your stories. I've enjoyed watching your pictures over the years, so the stories are a bonus. The supply people blocking the blue pens... they remind me of the hurt that all people feel, even the most joyous of us. Your compassion is admirable.

    Strange you start this blog... I've been thinking deeply on the topics of "good" and "nice," in depth, for over a year. I've come to think they are two of the most commonly misunderstood terms (or behaviors) known in humanity. I so look forward to reading your ideas and watching the sharing of ideas on your blog. :-) Thank you for putting it out there!

  2. Lovely, Jennifer. Thanks for sharing! I'll be following :)