About Jen

I started the "Be Nice. Project" as a way to remind people of basic social courtesies that are becoming less prevalent in our day to day interactions. Over time it has grown to consider self-improvement, and keeping a positive, purposeful attitude in even dreary situations. I hope this sort of dialogue will bring about a greater trend toward expansive social courtesy, compassion, and kindness in simple and complex ways.

Compliments denoting our differences aren’t necessarily complimentary

I haven’t written in a while (my apologies). Today, I would like to share this article with you. It addresses the ill-conceived act of complimenting the beauty of a biracial person.

I am embarrassed to say I have been guilty of giving the kind of “compliment” the author discusses here. To be honest, I had never considered the implications of my well-meaning words. Looking back now I can see the ignorance in them and I am sorry for it. I have always held the conviction that when I think or hear nice things about someone, I say it (which is like the antithesis of “If you don’t have anything nice to say, don’t say anything at all…). It didn’t occur to me that my compliment could be insulting. Noted: sharing a compliment that denotes a difference between people may have the opposite effect it intends to create.

My mother always taught me to consider a person’s intentions in conjunction with their words, so I can only hope the recipient of my compliments knew I meant well. I am gratified the author of this article has a similar – and very well-rounded and compassionate – view of these sorts of comments: “Awkward. Well-intended. Poorly thought-through. A window into our shared cultural stuff about identity.

I have learned something very important today – something I won’t soon forget. I am sharing the article with my readers in case they have made this social blunder as well. We are human beings full of imperfections – the importance is that we work toward being better versions of ourselves when we see the error in our ways.

Ring in a bucket

Below is a wonderful story about a homeless man who found a $4000 (or more!) diamond in his bucket on the street. Check out what he did with the ring. Definitely worth a watch – all the way through. Goodness abounds in this story!

Have a great week!

Too happy?

At work the other day I had a rather high level of happiness and it was noted by one of my coworkers with both amusement and annoyance. I noted how I imagined some people might find my happiness overwhelming. My coworker responded, “You can be happy, but just don’t TOO happy all the time.” I paused for a moment, astounded. Too happy? Hmmph. “No, I’m going to be as happy as I want whenever I want. If people don’t like it that is just too bad. I don’t think being happy is something to be ashamed of.” My co-worker’s eyebrows arched with surprise, but she smiled and agreed.

I’ve been told I am “too much” of something in one way or another most of my life. Too happy, too friendly, too outgoing, too talkative, too outside of the status quo, too sensitive; I’ve been told I think too much and I say “sorry” too much (that is actually true). Hell, I’ve been told I’m too tall. At this point in my life – being an adult I guess – it irritates me when people feel licensed to say this to me. Because what these words can communicate is a level of intolerance, a lack of acceptance, and an implication that I should be ashamed of these attributes. But are they truly shame worthy? No, I would say most of them are not.

It is my natural inclination to reflect on what about me may make people feel comfortable passing these judgments. Perhaps it is my people-pleasing demeanor, or that I show audible concern for the influence my actions may negatively have on others. Something to work on perhaps, but I think the other person has some more important thinking to do.

What I believe people are feeling when they pass these evaluations on a person’s character – if I can project a bit here – is uncomfortable. Perhaps they are stressed or feeling negative, and interacting with a very happy person makes it difficult for them to navigate their feelings in that atmosphere. Perhaps they are tired, shy, or quiet… perhaps they are simply not interested in what is being communicated. Rather than launching into a critical assessment of a person’s behavior in an attempt to shut it down or convey one’s surprise (“You’re too happy…” or “You think too much…”), it would be better to communicate his or her feelings more self-referentially.  “I am sorry – I am not feeling too talkative right now. I’ve got my mind wrapped up in a project,” or, “It’s nice to see you’re so excited. I’m pretty tired myself. Keep up the good day.”

It is very possible people might find a behavior annoying or fake or superficial. But this perception certainly doesn’t give that person the right to criticize that behavior, particularly if the traits are generally held as positive by society at large. Truly, if I took the same sort of license with others that historically they have taken with me, I don’t imagine it would be appreciated. If I said, “You’re too quiet,” “You are always so negative,” “Boy you sure are grumpy every day,” I have a feeling people would view that as rather unkind and uncalled for. After all, what do I know of their personal circumstances? Who am I to judge? And why kick someone if they are down? Thing is, we shouldn’t kick someone while they are up, either.

Shy people can adjust to overtly friendly ones, just as chatty-Cathy’s can accept not everyone is going to volley back a verbose reply. Rather than casting judgment, whether silently or verbally, perhaps the best action is to pause and consider who you are interacting with as well as consider the type of person you are (with all your expectations, cultural behaviors, and opinions on proper etiquette). These are simple differences that can be accommodated and adjusted for, rather than noted in an offensive, dismissive regard.

The world needs quiet people and talkative ones, upbeat happy bubbly folks and low-key, laid-back people, too. We can’t all be either a “Tigger” or an “Eeyore”; we need both to give society a little balance. So, I’ll make you a little deal. When I’m super-happy in one of my bouncy-bouncy fun-fun “Tigger” moods, I’ll do my best to carefully circumnavigate the personal space of the “Eeyore” people out there. And maybe they can do best to stay out of my rambunctious path! 😉

Not cool Robert Frost!

Video

You probably saw this video on Facebook or Youtube, but if you haven’t, definitely watch it! And, since one of Kid President’s ideas is to “Be nice” all year, I have to share this one – which is equally as incredible! I love this kid. Awesome dance moves, totally entertaining and great ideas. 🙂  Check it out, get inspired!

My Trusty Magnet

Trust in the Lord with all your heart and He will direct your paths.

I have relied on this phrase for years, thanks to my First Communion back in second grade. As a gift I received a magnet with a laminated image of a bear and bunny walking hand in hand down a path pasted atop a fibrous wooden backing. My mom adopted it through the divorce and single motherhood – its rightful place was in the top-most corner on the refrigerator in every house we lived. I didn’t reclaim it until I moved to New York, and luckily its parting from my mother’s troubled gaze was relieved by the overall happiness in her life.

Though I don’t practice a religion these days, I feel comforted by my childhood prayers…. Any time I cannot find my keys: “Saint Anthony, Saint Anthony, Something is lost and cannot be found, can you please help me as I look around?” Any time I feel out of control and frustrated: “God, grant me the serenity….” And when I didn’t have a good job (and, for a while, any job) after graduating at the height of the recession, I read the St. Jude prayer for employment pinned to my refrigerator almost every day.

My refrigerator prayers.

My refrigerator prayers.

These prayers resonate with hope and trust no matter one’s religious convictions. Whether I believed in a higher power or myself – though it was most certainly a combination of both – I knew whatever happened would “be.” I would make the most out of any result. And truly… it would make the most out of me too.

In difficult times, knowing even this, doubt and fear lingered on my sunny horizons daily – with anger not far behind. In 2009 my husband and I had trouble finding any jobs at all after graduation, let alone ones in our field. After a few months, we happily took positions in data entry and stayed there for around two years while we searched for something better. For two years I pivoted between gratitude and aggravation. I was so lucky to have a job that paid my bills and gave me insurance in the recession, but it was so much less than what I had hoped for. We had worked for years to be teachers, and here we were watching those jobs evaporate in a declining economy.

I thought of people who at this point would opt for a more “stable” career like nursing and return to school. I contemplated ways to make myself more employable. I wondered what would happen to me if I never made it out of my current position…. I felt increasingly hopeless and desperate. Working through these emotions I came to understand that perhaps my dreams needed to become more flexible. Yes, I had dreamed of being a teacher. But what if something greater were ahead for me? Something I couldn’t imagine? Through the fog of disappointment and apprehension, I placed my trust in God, the universe, and myself that it would work out. I would continue to do things that gave me joy, I would widen my expectations to make room for surprises and new possibilities, and above all I would stay positive and grateful while acknowledging the painful feelings too. So I curated exhibitions, I showed my work, I took on more responsibility at my current position, I began to develop a fitness habit, I grew within my friendships and marriage.

One day unexpectedly my husband applied for a production job in a warehouse. He had to get out of data entry – it was driving him nuts. As long as this job was comparable in pay it was good enough, he said, though he had hopes it would turn into more. I was nervous but trusted his judgment, and in just a year and a half he transferred from a production worker to a researcher. In 2009, neither of us could have imagined my artist husband would be a scientific researcher in just three short years. But God works in mysterious ways, and my husband has never been happier. He loves his work. He loves his company and his colleagues. He is challenged and gratified daily by his experiences and discoveries.

With his position came further developments we had not expected. We were now permanently rooted in upstate New York. No more national job searches! We were here. We could settle down! I envied his happiness and wanted a little bit for myself. In March of 2012 one sentence in my weekly horoscope jumped out at me…. The greatest and most important problems of life cannot be solved. They can only be outgrown. Suddenly a sense of understanding came over me as I continued to read. It was what I knew deep inside, but somehow seeing it there in print bound itself to my psyche in a way I hadn’t been able to manage previously. Just keep doing what I love. Keep living a life of purpose and passion. Don’t focus on what isn’t working. Concentrate on what is working, and go from there.

The Metroland horoscope section from March 2012, cut out and taped to my wall for a year now.

The Metroland horoscope section from March 2012, cut out and taped to my wall for a year now.

I taped its message to my wall, and it guided me as I searched for better jobs and continued to do the things that brought me joy. As if it were a self-fulfilling prophecy, in less than a month I found a position with a locally owned company that gave me butterflies in my belly. Could this be real?! Out of nowhere I had walked into a company which values its workers and shows it through compensation, benefits, and other forms of generosity. My work environment is positive, supportive, and happy. My bosses smile more than I have ever seen any managers smile; their level of professionalism and dedication is admirable and inspiring. They welcome input (and act on it)! It was everything I needed after my last job, and it was within a few miles of Jake’s workplace and on the bus line near our home! I still sit in wonderment at how God provided for us all these years. I look back and see the difficulty, but I value more the perseverance and the synchronicity which occurred to bring us to this point in our lives. I can finally breathe. I can finally relax.

I find myself now in a place of infinite possibility. We are here. We are rooted. We are somewhere I couldn’t have anticipated. I wonder… what will my next dream be? To be honest I feel slightly adrift and aimless these days, but also reassured and calm. I did not expect to be here. This is not what I planned. In so many ways it is better than I had imagined. And now, I need to formulate dreams for my next possible future. I ask myself, where am I headed? What is my newest challenge? And how will I be surprised in the process of finding my future?

By living and being my best version of myself amidst the angst of uncertainty and disappointed hopes, I knew my actions would steer me onto the most optimal path toward a resolution to my problem. I might not have known which result my path would yield, but whatever endpoint found me had to be the right one because I had done my best in getting there. By leaving our futures open to possibility, my husband and I found ourselves in a place better than we could have dreamed. I can only hope this is the beginning of a kind of happiness I have never known. Is there even more happiness to come, more joy than I can fathom? What is possible?

Etiquette in the age of the Internet

Thoughtless.

Inconsiderate.

Not. Cool.

Are you kidding me?!

Just a few thoughts that run through my mind when cruising my news feed. I’m not talking about politics (though I’m sure those words have been uttered then, too). I am referring to comments on non-controversial issues: life events.

Back when the internet was not the hub of social communication and activity, people used snail mail. They sent cards to people to announce big events. They relied on phone trees to share sad events with family. Nowadays, Facebook is the cornerstone of the new baby and engagement announcement, the condolence book for loss and illness. I see nothing wrong with it. But people need to reserve their comments and reactions for the appropriate time and place.

In the last year I’ve seen my friends’ family members break the big announcement to my friends’ extreme disappointment before they had made it public, I’ve been disgusted as people’s very private illnesses were publicized by “friends,” and I have seen other’s faces rubbed in their mistakes. These things really irk me, and I wonder if people have forgotten common courtesy. Indeed, it makes me wonder: have I, too, been guilty of these inconsiderate behaviors?

Imagine you are pregnant with your first child and have yet to tell those closest to you. Then you tell one of your in-laws. Before you know it, they have become so overwhelmed by joy that they share it with their 500 Facebook friends, including your immediate family who may not have yet known. Effectively, this person has just sent out an announcement card for your big news, without involving you in the least. Everyone is either sharing in their joy or silently miffed they had been left out of the prized group of people who were the first to know. And that is where the problem begins. Hurt feelings, anger, animosity. Not exactly the feelings you hoped to have in the time of your “happy” news.

Fortunately etiquette for sharing big news online can be really simple. Here are some ideas.

General Rule #1: If it ain’t your news, don’t spread it unless you’ve got their permission.

General Rule #2: If the person with news has yet to put the news on their FB page, don’t do it for them by posting your condolence or excitement on your page. Reserve your reactions until (or if) they break their news. Without this self-restraint, effectively you’ve just taken the control or joy out of their unique situation. You’ve just taken the luster out of the goodness, or the privacy out of the badness.

Bad behavior: Rumors of bad behavior do not necessarily tell the whole story. Going online and rubbing a person’s face in it or posting it on your page is a surefire way to make their life worse and possibly impede their healing or learning process. Until you get the background information, keep quiet. Or better yet, remember your word has little to no relevance or importance and perhaps no comment is necessary at all. (Various super-close family members are not included in this remark. Nevertheless, it is still not business to publicize to the world without consent).

Death: Expressing your condolences or sharing your mourning is an important act of processing such unfortunate ocurrences. Announcing it without the family’s permission is a careless act of insensitivity. Remember to think of their pain above yours at all times. No one wants to punctuate sorrow with anger in times like these.

Illness: Many people feel their battle with an illness is not something to be shared. Perhaps they don’t want to be treated differently. Perhaps they don’t want to the be poster-child for every “Support XX disease research” badge you paste on your page. While one may want support, they may not want entire communities to be aware of what they are fighting. Rule of thumb: if they haven’t gone public with it online, respect those boundaries. Illnesses are complicated life events; the sick person’s wishes must be honored.

Baby: News of a pregnancy or news of a birth are exciting tidings indeed. What is NOT exciting is to be so overwhelmed by your joy that you forget about the new parents’ happiness. Posting the news on your page, or posting a congratulatory comment on the parents’ pages, is a great thing to do. While it seems customary to post congratulations on the new parents’ pages before they’ve made the “official” announcement, making it public or sharing the first baby picture on your page could be an over-reach in my opinion. Potentially, you have just taken away their only opportunity to break this fresh news to the world online with the first baby picture (especially if it is their first baby). Best advice: ask yourself if you’d be unhappy if so-and-so did this with your first baby. If the answer is yes or maybe, perhaps it’s best to hold back on your posting impulses.

Engagement: See above. For both these scenarios, I would recommend you A) check the page of the person with the announcement to see if the big news is posted officially yet, and B) keep quiet or issue your congratulations respectively when it is made public. Remember when you got engaged? Now imagine someone else sharing that with the world. Not very thoughtful indeed. Keep a lid on the enthusiasm until it is the right time.

We need to remember that the internet is not a separate sphere from the “real” world. It is merely an extension of it. Hurting a person’s feelings is as real there as it would be in person. While it is easy to sometimes forget, our words and actions matter, whether they are in text on a computer screen or verbalized from our lips. But with a little forethought – or hesitation before we click the “post” or “share” button – we can avoid some of the worst transgressions and maintain happy relationships with those for whom we care most.