Watching the film ANOTHER YEAR by Mike Leigh. Such a simple film. And through this simplicity so deep, moving and impactful. I dare say I don’t think I’ll forget these characters. At least not anytime soon. About midway through the movie, the simplest thought occurred to me. How important it is to be a nice person. Sounds simple enough, I know. But how often do we forget to stop focusing on ourselves and our own needs, longings and desires to remember to be nice to others?
There are plenty of nice people in the world. We meet them now and then. For me personally I find that whenever I meet someone who seems truly kind hearted, sincere and genuine it has an uncanny ability to stop time for a minute or two and rattle me up. There’s just something special about them. They don’t come off all preoccupied with themselves. They look you in the eye. They’re soft. They seem genuinely interested in you and how you are doing. My mom is actually one of those people. I feel lucky to be able to feel comfortable saying that. But she really is. No matter how hard things get in her life, and God bless her, things have just almost always been hard for her in this life, she still has time for people. She still comes off sincerely interested in how they’re doing. She stops and listens. She offers advice that is real advice rather than simply an excuse to be heard speaking. She’s a therapist by trade who seems to do more work for free for her clients than for her usual fees. She claims she just can’t help it. That she can’t very well “push people away just because they can’t pay.” Well I know plenty of therapists who can. And do. Everyday of the week.
Genuinely nice people are some of the most valuable commodities we have on planet earth. Of course, “nice” is a subjective term. a descriptive adjective that can potentially mean many different things to many people. But in general, most people have at least a broad understanding of what it means. The poster above does a decent job of explaining it. Honest, trustworthy, innocent due to a rare absence of guilt. Capable of admitting their mistakes, and further, ready and able to apologize and make amends for them. Admitting we are wrong, letting go of the need to be right in the moment of disagreement is no easy task. I can vouch for that. It hurts. It actually hurts your insides. But the pain fades quickly once the mistake is acknowledged and apologized for. This is something I have learned time and time again and something I consider a mini-miracle. Nice people remember who you are. They are grateful for your friendship. They are grateful for a lot of things. They stay close to their family and friends. They go out of their way to do kind things for others. It shows on their face, nice people.
You know that grimace that seems permanently plastered on the countenance of Donald Trump? That’s kind of like the opposite of being a nice person showing on someone’s face. It’s as if our consciousness shines through the eyes, and more profoundly shapes the looks our faces make. Over time these looks, if repeated enough, remain. Forever imprinted like water-scarred gorges and valleys at the bottom of dried up riverbeds. You know you are in the presence of a nice person almost from the moment you meet. In fact you don’t even have to meet them in person. You can tell on the phone or on the internet, just through your interactions with them. It’s not rocket science. Nice is nice and anything else is everything else but.
Nice people remind me what a sod I am. I am lucky (or unlucky depending on how you look at it) to be in an industry where almost no matter what we do we are constantly being accused of being way nicer than we actually are. Don’t get me wrong. I try. I try hard. I am in a constant state of stopping and resetting. But I feel terribly humbled when people over-thank me for doing something nice, as if it’s some kind of a rare occurrence. As if it’s an unnatural state of humankind, to do nice things. In a way it makes me a tad uncomfortable. I wish being nice was such a normal state for us here that we didn’t have to feel obliged to thank people when they did something nice for us. Of course we still would, because that’s the nice thing to do.
One of the most significant things we can observe about this subject in modern times is that it isn’t usually easy to be nice in today’s world. In fact I would venture to say it never has been. It’s a dog eat dog world as they say. Nice guys finish last. One assumes nice girls finish last too. Or so they say. Being nice can get you in a lot of trouble. Especially when dealing with not so nice people. I remember one time someone very close to me, a not so nice person, was glancing at a set of photos i brought back from a trip to Brasil that I had just returned from, and when she got to one particular photo of me with my arm around a new friend I had made there, she stared at it longer than she had stared at any of the other photographs. I asked her what she was looking at. “You’re a nice person aren’t you?” she asked. I didn’t know how to reply. “I don’t know… Why do you ask?” “Well just from the look on your face… I mean, you’re serious here. You really mean it…” “Mean what?” “Your smile. You’re really smiling. That’s you. That’s really you. You’re really a nice person.” Well I didn’t know what else to do but thank her. I understood what she was saying. And it made me feel good, yet it also made me feel a bit uncomfortable too. Why did she harp on that? Aren’t we all nice? Don’t we all mean it when we smile?
Well obviously not. A few days later, this person, Cleopatra Ecstasy to be exact, began a slow well thought out strategy that left me broke and penniless and her wealthy and owning every cent I had ever earned and saved in my entire life less than a year later. Her method was easy and quite transparent looking back on it now. All she had to do was trust in my being nice. She knew I would never do anything “not nice”. Even if she did. She also knew that I wouldn’t tell her any untruths. Nor deceive her in any way. Even if she did. She also knew that no matter how many times she lied to me or did me harm that all she had to do was apologize and I would forgive her. If she promised not to do it again, she knew I would believe her. It took less than six months for her to abscond with everything I owned. Bank accounts, credit cards, cash accounts, real estate, stock and other equities, and even a multi-million dollar multi-national business that she then sold for a small fortune. In the end I could do nothing about it except take my medicine like a man and begin again.
Which is where I sit today. Five years into beginning again. The funny thing is that instead of jading me or making me cynical and hard, if anything it made me an even nicer person. I don’t know why exactly. I suppose that’s a topic for another story of exploration. Through that experience I learned many things. One of them being that there are some truly not-nice people in the world. Regardless of whether or not you’re nice or not. I also learned that there is no true justice in the universe in relation to any kind of karmic return on your niceness when dealing with others who are not nice. If you’re a nice person, don’t look for a payoff for it from people who aren’t like you. Your payoff is how you feel inside. Nothing more. The not nice people of the world aren’t going to turn over a new leaf from your example like in some Hollywood movie and start being nice to you. They are who they are. And we can’t change them.
What we can do though is mix a bit of brains with our niceness and use discernment to protect ourselves from these kinds of predators who prey on the kindness and good nature of genuinely nice people. We can still be nice to them. But from a distance. We cannot make the mistake of believing that just because we are nice we are somehow protected; nor can we allow ourselves to self sabotage by placing ourselves in harm’s way through associating with people who are not nice hoping it may rub off on them. It usually doesn’t. In fact, it usually just gets us hurt or taken advantage of. And for that, we are guilty of being foolhardy. Nice, but just not very smart.
But I learned something else from the experience too. Going from rich to poor, from a lavish lifestyle to homeless wasn’t easy. It was downright scary. But I was never without help. In fact if I ever wanted proof that being nice pays off in a multitude of ways that we can never imagine, I got that proof ten times over through experiencing so much help during those first few years of going back up to hero from zero that I myself was even able to help others at the same time. And from a position of being flat broke and homeless. It showed me that nice guys don’t always finish last. They may fall into last place every now and then, maybe even more than other people, just through the inherent vulnerability of being nice. But as miraculous as it may seem, we’re back on top in no time. Call it God, angels, the flow of the universe, good karma, or simply the practical result of what you do comes back to you – a physical action-reaction mechanism.
But being nice does pay off. Not just in how good we feel when we wake up everyday, but also in how our lives tend to play out. Of course this means that we have to keep on our toes and keep remembering to focus our attention on deliberately being a nice person. Luckily for all of us, as with most things, practice make perfect. The more we do it the easier it gets. And soon it’s just our natural state. But there is always room for improvement. Like I said, encountering nice people in the world usually just makes me feel remember how much nice I still can be. And I think that’s a good thing. I get the feeling there’s probably no limit to how nice we can be.