Because nice matters.
As a high school student in the early aughts, I had a principal named Mr. Lucas. A large, teddy bear of a man who promoted a single lesson, “Because nice matters.” At the time, I thought this was D-U-M-B, but in fairness to my teenage self, I also worshiped Manic Panic hair dye, anything remotely “punk” and for whatever reason, hot pink.
Mr. Lucas was in charge through my first three years, and things were relatively tame as far as I can remember. Sure, the occasional fight broke out. People got caught smoking. There was inane graffiti in the bathroom. But all that changed senior year.
See Mr. Lucas, and a number of other educators and administrators, took a buyout package over the summer, ushering in a new class of adults with our “best interests” at heart. A week into the first marking period, September 11th happened, devastating many in my upper middle class, suburban New Jersey hometown. And for a time, nice didn’t seem to matter anymore. It faded into the background, overshadowed by everything else going on. The harsh realities that life presents when the whole world is changing before your eyes (I realize this sounds dramatic, but let’s remember what it’s like to be 17).
At our graduation, Mr. Lucas came back to see us off as we prepared to go in countless different directions. And even in the amphitheater of the PNC Bank Arts Center, you could feel his presence and see his surprise and delight when an entire row of graduates stood up with a banner spelling out his main message. “Because nice matters.” We had come full circle.
Mr. Lucas passed away just a few years later, but his words remain the biggest lesson I learned in high school. Today, I try to carry it with me as I move about my day. Sometimes I succeed, sometimes I don’t. Luckily, no one is keeping score (I hope). That said, it’s not that hard to be nice, though it does require taking pause before opening your mouth — and the place I find this most useful is at work.
Being in professional services, I know how to take criticism. They say the client is always right, which is true up to a point. There is absolutely no place for certain behaviors, whether that’s being rude and abrupt in meetings, berating coworkers or choosing crass, cutting language as a way to “provide feedback.” If that’s your inclination, there’s probably something else going on.
So before lashing out at those around you, consider channeling that hostility elsewhere. Go for a quick walk around the office. Watch a funny video. Heck, you could even start a blog. And to be honest, I don’t even remember that other principal’s name, but Fred Lucas stuck with me. Because he was right, nice does matter, and yes, it really is that simple.
Image snagged from Pinterest.