Thursday, 29 March 2012

Be nice ... please

Can you change the world by being nice or do nice people finish last?  The longer I live the more important I think it is to be nice.  Not fake, sickly sweet, over the top, drama queen nice but genuinely kind, thoughtful, heartfelt nice.  I am also beginning to realise it takes great courage, a lot of self confidence and commitment to be nice.  As a society a lot of our media and entertainment comes from not being nice, magazines constantly highlight and describe the pain and misfortune in the lives of celebrities, politicians are constantly horrible about each other, the cool kids at school maintain their status by being mean to others and even as adults often we make ourselves feel better, smarter, more important or popular by being not so nice about other people, excluding them and judging them.

However, recently I have been bombarded with encounters with nice people, a nice real estate agent, a nice solicitor, nice teachers, super nice friends, nice check out attendants, nice people to interview and photograph, just nice people everywhere I turn and it has been spectacular.  This got me thinking how much I really like nice people, and by people being nice they actually have a huge influence in their family, social groups, the community and even the world.

I consider myself incredibly blessed to know and be friends with so many truly nice people, they are really thoughtful and I am hoping their nice-ness is rubbing off on me and influencing my life because it is my experience that nice people do not finish last.  So what does it take to actually be nice?  Basically, you just have to make the conscious decision to be nice, each and every day.  Things like answering the phone with a smile on your voice, giving people a wave and saying hello enthusiastically, lending friends something that will make their life easier or happier, letting people with less items go ahead of you in the line, being considerate to elderly people, not getting impatient when things don’t go exactly as you planned, not talking negatively about people, whether they are in the room or not.  The list is endless.

Some of you are probably thinking ‘If I am nice people will just walk all over me’, not true.  If you are nice, people will like you, they will want to help you, they will want to spend time with you, they will want to be friends with you and other nice people will be nice to you.  Trust me, being nice will make your life better, guaranteed.

Being nice sometimes takes courage, you may offer to help someone and they might say no, you might invite a new person to something and they might say no, you may be nice to somebody and they may throw it back in your face.  Remember the Peter Gabriel song from the 80’s ‘ Don’t give up, ‘cos you have friends; don’t give up your not beaten yet; Don’t give up, I know you can make it good ... please don’t give up, you’re not the only one’.  Sing this song in your head and keep being nice. 

Michael Kornfeld famously said “If we all do one random act of kindness daily, we just might set the world in the right direction”.  It is worth a try isn’t it?  Don’t just leave positive social change to our schools, politicians, media moguls, entrepreneurs or world aid agencies each one of us can set the world in the right direction just by being nice.  Try it, you will feel great and you will not finish last.

Sunday, 4 March 2012


If I hear one more radio interview or television advertisement that refers to society as being “time-poor” I think I will scream.  I hate the term, it makes me feel like I have been taken hostage by life and it is sucking all my time away against my will.  It makes me feel like a victim of the times, that I am permanently stuck on a tread-mill and I can’t get off. 

Next time somebody asks me how I have been I am going to say “Great, I have been filling my days doing things that I like”.  I do not want to be selfish or lazy but I do want to have control of my life, and I want to spend my precious time on this earth doing what it important to me.

The concept of being time-poor is perpetuated by the desire to make money.  Take-away restaurants want us to be too ‘time-poor’ to cook our own meals, supermarkets want us to be too ‘time-poor’ to grow our own fruit and vegetables, daycare centres want us to be too ‘time-poor’ to be able to look after our children, gyms want us to be too ‘time poor’ to walk to the shops, cleaners, handymen, ironing services all want us to be too ‘time poor’ to take care of our own home, accountants wants us to be too ‘time poor’ to do our own taxes.  The list goes on and on.  It seems being ‘time poor’ makes the world go round.

I am hopeful that rather than just hear and accept this term as a society we can fight back, we can spend time doing what we want, we can be proud to say we are content, happy and peaceful.  I just find it crazy that we have to be seen, and heard, to be busy to justify our existence, being busy seems more important than being happy. 

Two things make me think there is nothing worse than being time poor.  The first is the saying “Where your treasure is, there will be your heart”, which I think means whatever you value, whatever you invest your time doing that is where your heart will be, and this is what will make you truly happy.  If we are time-poor the risk of placing our heart on the wrong treasures is too great.  In the rush the first things that often get left behind are our family, friends, hobbies, faith, all the things that make us laugh, skip with joy and give our life flavour get left behind because we are too busy just being busy.

The second thing is the brevity of life.  There is another saying “You can’t control the length of your life but you can control its depth”.  So if we are so busy being busy what are we doing to give our lives depth.  If I drop off the perch tomorrow I want the days that I had to be meaningful and enjoyable. How devastatingly sad if at your funeral they stand up and say “Well she was always busy”, that is no claim to fame.

I don’t really have the answer to take the busy-ness out of our lives, we do live in hectic times, but maybe if we just try and reclaim our lives a little, if we don’t see it as a competition to be busier than the next person and if we can say we spent the day at home just hanging out without being embarrassed. If we can try and ensure our heart is set on the most important treasures in our lives maybe we can fight the time-poor phenomenon and live a life truly worth living.

Are you normal?

In recent weeks I have observed people participate in their local community in ways they normally wouldn’t.  People have rallied together to help individuals, organisations, businesses and the entire community get back on their feet.  Many people have done so unassumingly and quietly, others have gone about it with a loud and determined manner, others have done things none of us will ever know about.  Each individual should feel proud of their efforts, however big or small, and nobody should assess or judge how, what and why people have done, or not done, things.  How people have responded after the disaster got me thinking about our ability, as a society, to value each individual.

As soon as a child is born we want to be reassured that everything is ok, that they are ‘normal’, the same as every other baby.  However, the other night I saw an interview with Paralympian Kurt Fearnley who was born without the lower portions of his body and he was amazing, the joy that shone from his face was uplifting and he spoke about his life with such affection and fun.  He was raised in the tiny country town of Carcoar in Central West NSW, he was the youngest of five, and he said his family and whole community believed he could do anything, and he has done just that.  He has crawled along the Great Wall of China, completed the Kokoda Trail, is a two time Paralympic Champion and has had lunch with the Queen.  He has done more than most of us will ever do and he only has half a body. 

From the minute a child is born there are milestones they should meet, from when they should sit up, crawl, walk and talk and this only gets exaggerated when they go to school.  The need for children to conform is so great that it is often difficult to appreciate, enjoy and celebrate their uniqueness.  As we grow up we quickly learn that if we want to fit in we should dress like everybody else, sound like everybody else and pretty much just agree with everybody else.  So is conformity the ticket to success or the secret to mediocrity?  As a society we give accolades, congratulations, promotions, praise and awards to those who succeed in and contribute to society in a way that makes us feel safe, that looks normal and that we agree with.  There would be an equal number of people that contribute and succeed by challenging the status quo, constantly pushing the boundaries, pushing us forward as a society but we probably find them more annoying than helpful, even though what they are doing is vital. 

John F. Kennedy said “Conformity is the jailer of freedom and the enemy of growth” and Thomas John Watson, who was the chairman and CEO of IBM and was one of the richest men in the world when he died said “Follow the path of the unsafe, independent thinker. Expose your ideas to the danger of controversy. Speak your mind and fear less the label of crackpot than the stigma of conformity”.

Now I am not suggesting that we are all independent thinkers, and I am not advocating we have no rules and we all just run around wild and free, there needs to be structure or society will collapse and there needs to be lots of people who think, do and feel similar things otherwise life would just be too complicated.  I am simply suggesting that as individuals and a society we might need to try harder to value each individual, not on their achievements, looks, personality traits, good deeds or financial success, but just for being, because every single one of us is truly special and gifted and sometimes beauty, talent, kindness, brilliance, generosity and fun is overlooked or not seen simply because the individual or group does not conform to what we deem ‘normal’.  Life is too short to limit ourselves to normal.