I like to think I’m a nice person.
Maybe that’s a loaded statement. I’m sure there are folks out there who disagree with me. If I’m full of it, please, call me out. This matters enough to me that I want to be told if I’m mistaken about my own niceness. I try to be nice, and over the past few years I feel I’ve grown as a person, especially in the area of niceness. And I’ve realized that niceness is an aspect of life that is sorely under-appreciated from the giving end and often incredibly deficit on the receiving end.
Moral of the story: I think we all need to be nicer to each other.
When I was a junior in high school, I worked at a local grocery store. The work was either incredibly boring or incredibly hard, the owner was a cranky, wealthy man, and the teenaged employees were often the unsung heroes in an epic tale of day-to-day drudgery. And even though it was a small-town, family-owned grocery store, it was also the only store with a decently-sized produce department, bakery, liquor department, and deli in the north-eastern quarter of the county. It was always hopping, and the people we knew made up just a small percentage of the customers.
(Bear with me, this is relevant.)
Most customers ran through our lines with one priority: get in, get out. Most of us grew numb, and while polite chit-chat was a requirement of the job, very few people were genuinely nice, or concerned with our daily affairs. It came with the territory of being a cashier/stocker/cart wrangler. It wasn’t exactly the hardest job, but it didn’t inspire a “whistle-while-you-work” mentality, either.
Most days, I showed up to work already exhausted. I was an honor student, county 4-H officer, section leader in the concert/pep/marching band, Illinois State Scholar, and active in National Honor Society, Spanish club, drama club. I was volunteering with kids and handicapped adults. I was raising and showing rabbits. I was preparing for the ACT’s and trying to decide what college to go to. I was taking Advanced Placement classes for college credit. I was cheering on friends and my then-boyfriend at athletic events. I was working on farms on the weekends.
I don’t know how I did it all, but I still showed up to work with a smile. And most days, very little of that cheer was reciprocated.
This isn’t about self-pity. Most of us are BUSY. Very busy. I don’t hold it against anyone to miss these things, because each and every one of us has some sort of battle to face each and every day. But, I learned a valuable lesson while scanning boxes of cereal and doing price-checks in aisle 7: small acts of kindness make a big difference.
Something so simple as someone asking how my day was, and sincerely meaning it (rather than asking while avoiding eye contact as they shuffled through their wallet or purse, or texted) could make a huge impact on my morale on one of those evening shifts. I’d get home from work by 9:30 or 10, and would still have a little bit of energy to dive into some homework.
Yesterday, I had a similar experience, from the opposite side. I ran to Walmart to pick up some odds-n-ends. As I was checking out, I realized this specific cashier was a young man, maybe 16 or 17, as opposed to the older women that tend to be the usual at this particular Walmart. And he looked tired. I know when I was in high school, Sunday evenings were usually devoted to homework, or trying to decompress before the rush of another busy week.
A forced smile, a greeting, and he began scanning my stuff. As he did it, I looked right at him and said, “How are you today, sir?” He paused, looked down at me and said, “You know, it ain’t half-bad. Thanks for asking.” After that, it was small-talk, but sincere. He’s going to be a senior in high school, at a nearby small-town school. He wants to go into the military, but he isn’t sure what branch or specialty yet. When I was too short to see the keypad for my debit card, he had to tilt it forward and hold it for me because the stand for it was broken.
“Did you break my card machine?” he said jokingly. My response was, “Yup. This is why we can’t have nice things.” He laughed, and said I made his day. I wished him a good night, he returned the favor, and I went on my way. I’ll likely never see him again, but I left Walmart with a feeling that, for a few moments, I made his day a little brighter. I made his load a little lighter.
Now, I’d love to write some poignant summary as to why this is important in the agriculture industry. However, I feel like that would be a wasted paragraph (or more) because this doesn’t just belong in agriculture. This belongs in life. It belongs in the world in general.
I first heard the term “Nice matters” during my freshman year of college. I lived on a floor that was predominantly elementary education majors, and promoting niceness and sharing seems to be really big among them. Big surprise. It kind of stuck in my head after that, and while I haven’t always been a glittering example of the mentality, I try to live it in daily life. After all, we’re all encouraged to share, cooperate, have manners, and be nice in our early years of education. At least, I know that’s what happened at our schools.
So, why don’t we all take a page from the elementary school book? Why don’t we all work on remembering that nice matters? After all, every single one of us has a story of how we got to where we are at any given moment.