A Father’s Advice
In my book, One Week of You, my protagonist’s father’s repeated advice to her is “Be nice to everyone.” Lizzy struggles with this advice when she sees her friends and fellow students are not always kind. She wants to fit in and to be accepted, and wonders if she doesn’t behave like the others maybe she won’t be included. She also wonders, should I still be nice when a boy “likes” me and I don’t “like” him back? Should I still be nice when that person isn’t nice to me? Do I have to stand up for that person if someone else isn’t being nice to them?
This wasn’t the advice that my dad gave me. Dad was very focused on achievement, and his most oft-repeated piece of advice was to do my best. Whenever I’d present a report card to him, he’d always ask, “Is this your best? If this is your best, then I’m proud of you and there’s nothing more I can ask.” Of course I’d always start worrying if indeed I had done my best. Had I truly tried my hardest? Maybe I should have studied harder for that test or spent more time on that paper. So I’d nod a little doubtfully while vowing to try to do better the next time. He was pretty clever, my dad. And, of course, doing my best meant being my best self, so in a way that included being nice to everyone.
The “Be nice to everyone” advice actually comes from my own husband, when he was advising our daughters about how to get along in school and the world. Whenever our girls would complain about a person’s behavior, Jeff would always say, “You don’t know their story. Be nice to everyone.” They would tease Jeff for giving such seemingly simplistic advice, but they have remembered it.
A few years ago I went to hear a writer I deeply admire, George Saunders, speak about his work. He was so eloquent and sincere, and I’ve never forgotten what he said that night. When asked for his advice, he said, “Be kind.” He elaborated to say that writers can be kind to other human beings, be kind to the earth, and even be kind to their characters. He made a commencement address at Syracuse University in which he said one of his greatest regrets in life was not being kinder to one of his fellow classmates. The speech went viral.
(Some people might point out that “nice” and “kind” do not mean the same thing, and in a thesaurus they don’t. Synonyms for “kind” include generous, giving, humane, and compassionate, while synonyms for “nice” include pleasant, agreeable, likeable, and congenial. I feel as though in the context my husband used it, though, he actually meant “kind”).
In today’s atmosphere of rising division in our country, I feel like there is no better time to put this advice into action.