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Nice matters

I found myself saying, “I thought we lived in Iowa where people don’t act like that,” to a grocery store clerk the other day. The cashier had just finished telling me about an incident the day before where a customer was so upset about an ad she had read incorrectly that she pushed all her grocery items off of the counter towards the cashier.

Really? In Creston?

Why didn’t she just say “ope” and move along? That’s what we do here.

I’ve heard my daughter-in-law talk about watching people lose their “Iowa nice” in the airport when their flight was diverted because of fog — but at least they were out of Iowa at the time.

Our schools have been in the news lately because our kids seem to have forgotten how to be nice. You can’t just say nice things in public and then write down foul and hurtful things to pass around.

While I’m at it let me practice what I’m about to preach and give kudos to the parent who, when she found out about this thing, called the other parents — not to scream at them for their bad parenting skills or to gossip about who said what about whom — but to give them the information they needed to parent their children; that whole “it takes a village” thing — nice.

Back to students in the news: on the flip side, I’ve written about some students being very nice to Isaac, their friend. I don’t know them well enough to say for sure, but I hope that nice extends to everyone they are in contact with.

Be nice

Nice has to go further than opening doors for people and waving at everyone as you drive down the road. We have to care about what happens when those same people are out of our sight. That might look like dropping your change in a donation bucket or encouraging a young parent who is struggling with a screaming child.

But it mostly looks like stopping yourself when you want to repeat something hurtful about another person or including people who are difficult to include.

We try to practice that at the bookstore. One of our rules is “everybody who wants to, plays.” That’s not always easy to do. Sometimes certain people rub you the wrong way or have some truly irritating habits, sometimes they just don’t play at your level or are a bit awkward socially — they still get to play. We’re not perfect at it, but we’re trying, and we’re trying to teach it to the next generation of players — although, truthfully, they’re often better at it than we are.

How does that translate outside? Go visit that elderly relative who tells you the same story five times and pinches your cheek. If you don’t have a relative available, show up at a nursing home and ask who doesn’t get visitors.

By the way, call your mom if you still can.

Volunteer with one of the many organizations trying to make Union County a better place to live. Coach some little league, or just go to a game and cheer them on.

Talk to your neighbors; don’t mow your yard at 6 a.m. on the weekends.

Wait patiently while the woman in front of you at the store writes a check or counts out her pennies. Give a kind word to someone who looks like they’re having a tough day.

When you see somebody doing something nice, talk about that instead of going on about the jerk who cut you off.

Pick up some trash you see on the sidewalk without muttering about how nobody takes care of anything these days.

For heaven’s sake, clean up after your dog.

Pay for somebody else’s dinner when you go out to eat. And tip that waitress even if she doesn’t get your coffee refilled quite as fast as you’d like. It’s okay to grumble for a minute about a living wage or restaurants needing to pay their staff so you don’t have to, if you must, as long as you tip.

When you’re stuck behind a giant tractor going 20 mph, use the time to check out the beauty of the countryside. And be sure to thank some farmers for that lovely steak you had for dinner — or your tofu and bean salad, they made that possible too.

Spread the nice

I listened to Beto O’Rourke talk about being nice last Sunday. He didn’t use the word, but that’s what it boils down to. What is the solution to our racial problems? Be nice to everyone regardless of skin color or ethnicity.

How can we get legislation passed to provide health care to our most vulnerable population? Play nice with the other side.

How can we solve the problems facing our environment due to the fossil fuels we burn everyday? Be so nice it hurts, give up the comfortable way we’ve always done things and work hard to find alternatives that are nicer to our Earth.

I got to experience some true Iowa nice just the other day. I dropped my phone outside the newspaper office, and, although it went for a bit of an adventure to the other side of town (we won’t talk about whoever did that, it wasn’t nice), someone eventually picked it up and answered when we called. Then he waited around for us to come and get it — nice.

Can we find our “Iowa nice” and then spread it to the rest of the country? It matters.

Tell me what matters to you.

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