My sister says Minnesotans are patient people

Recently my big sis moved to a big metropolitan area–the Twin Cities–from our old college town in Iowa. She’s adjusted pretty well to the new urban environment, and has had a number of pleasant experiences in the short three months since she relocated there. Here is one excellent example of a truly patient person, written by my sister Sarah…. If you have any stories you’d like to share, I would LOVE to hear them! I love emails and always reply! Share yours and (as long as it fits the focus of the project) I’ll post it! (An email form is to the right half way down, under the section “How it started & spread the word” with the link labeled: “Email me!”)

I recently moved to the Twin Cities and was trying to find my way through town after dark. Sitting at a stop light I decided to look at my Droid Navigator map. When I looked up the light had turned green and the two or three cars in front of me had already driven away so far I could not see them anymore. Embarrassed, I quickly stepped on the gas. In my rear view mirror I saw at least a couple of cars behind me. I was so surprised that no one had honked their horn to get me moving. I am not patient with other drivers and am quick to beep my horn when I feel like others are not moving as quickly as I prefer (let alone when an idiot – me in this case – is so obviously not paying attention to the street light!) But these cars behind me decided not to honk their horns at all. I do not know if Minnesotans are just a patient people or if they saw my Iowa plates and decided to cut me some slack because I probably did not know where I was going. Either way I was surprised and impressed. Now when I drive around town I am not so quick to reach for the horn; I take a breath and remind myself to be patient.

I think Sarah’s attitude could be a great one to adopt. Why not give ourselves a little extra challenge for the next few weeks–what with the winter weather in full swing and holiday shopping-crazed drivers whizzing past us as they seek out shopping malls and discounts?  Could be interesting!

Laws, law makers, and texting

Supposedly, a law is being considered in New York that would outlaw texting while walking. People are oblivious to the world around them with their IPods and cell phones and texting, and they are getting injured because of it. So some legislators have decided this is something they should regulate, and therefore are spending time writing laws to control our behavior… while walking. According to CBS6 in Albany,

Fearing a spike in the number of car-pedestrian accidents, state Sen. Carl Kruger (D – Brooklyn) proposed a law that would “restrict the use of an electronic device while crossing a cross walk in a city with a population of one million or more” and “provide for a person in violation to be issued a summons and pay a civil fine of one hundred dollars.”

Kruger’s bill remains stalled in the senate’s Transportation Committee. One other state – Illinois – is considering a similar measure.

I know, I know… what is this blog for if not to contemplate our behaviors and how they harm and help others?  But this blog is also all about personal responsibility and I believe in the importance of our personal freedoms as well.  And to me, this law seems over-the top. I’m not denying that this activity poses a danger, but so does eating while driving, yelling at your kids in the back seat, changing the radio station while driving, and window gazing while walking. But, I grow more and more concerned that our government continues to police behaviors, rather than trusting in our maturity to manage things ourselves. If a kid eggs my house, I don’t file charges. I vent angrily to my spouse, and then calmly talk to her/his parents (if it were my kid, I’d want the same treatment). Similarly, if someone is walking without paying attention and are about to collide with me, I walk around them. Perhaps the issue is that many city dwellers do not yield to others on the sidewalk, and so collisions are more likely when people play the game of sidewalk “chicken.” Then of course a pedestrian might cross the street without checking cross-traffic. But hopefully the drivers are watching out for possible collisions and defensively avoiding them. Following 2 major principles of civility–reaping what you sow, and avoiding troubling situations by being aware–it is pretty acceptable to allow this issue to exist without legislation. There are the unfortunate incidents where these two ideas aren’t enough, but I think those instances don’t warrant a law.

That politicians spend time policing our behaviors through laws, and not enough time policing themselves or governmental functionality, worries me. Is texting our biggest problem? No. Not even close. And can’t these texting maniacs police themselves? Yes. I’m all about laws that provide information: like listing calorie counts at restaurants. Because I can still eat dessert and not get a fine. And I am supportive of laws mandating regulations for driving (big objects = big damages). If they’re going to tax tobacco and sugary foods, please don’t use the money to cover up decades of bad spending and legislation. Use it to educate kids about proper nutrition, or serve healthier meals in schools. And if the politicians want to legislate behavior, why not impose restrictions on campaign finance? How about establishing a dialogue by promoting responsible use through billboards and ads?

I must be honest, I see both sides. The line is not finely drawn. I think using cell phones while driving is bad, even though using it while walking could be just as hazardous to the text-er and the person colliding with him/her. So this one is certainly in the gray area. And State Senator Kruger’s law is not entirely invasive to every New Yorker. But what concerns me is the numerous number of laws being enacted that restrict us in tiny ways, that, if allowed to accumulate, will dictate how we live every aspect of our lives. If these types of laws become the norm, it leads me to believe that politicians will govern anything that will bring in revenue and play on our sense of fear and loss of control. If these laws are a reflection of our time, it leads me to believe that we cannot trust ourselves to act responsibly or maturely. And I am not willing to accept this.

Let’s all be model citizens and be held accountable for our actions by their repercussions. Not by a fine. Last I remember, I learned right and wrong by making mistakes. My folks never taxed or fined me for making mistakes, eating ice cream, or dropping a swear word. I learned morals and propriety based on the perception of my character and the effects of my errors. If I walk and text, and collide with a pole, I probably deserved it (by the way–I don’t actually have text messaging capability on my phone. I disabled it.). If I get high blood pressure and diabetes from being overweight and doing nothing to avoid it, I deserved that too. Let that be the punishment. Don’t micromanage my life.

The world is an uncivil place. The sidewalk is too. And I am okay with it, if it means I don’t have a police officer wasting his/her time fining me over my cell phone usage while walking mid-stride in Manhattan. I would rather be frustrated by the crowds of distracted, texting pedestrians than give up another basic civil liberty. I would rather believe in what this blog is about: self-governing is a natural and necessary part of society, and by talking about these issues with our peers we slowly and surely improve society.

Thanks for reading!


Girl Falls in Manhole While Texting

NPR article

NY Times article

Dumb Laws

Off to Watch Hill

A much much less hilly and tree-free version of my childhood country roads...(Click to link to image source: Cornbread blog)

My husband and I just returned from a mini-vacation to Connecticut, during which we ventured into the southwestern-most corner of Rhode Island to a spot called Watch Hill. I just have to say how very nice and considerate the drivers in that general area of RI were. More than once in the 1 or 2 hours we were there, RI drivers would pause in traffic to let us turn or pass through–even though they had the right of way!! It was wonderful! I don’t know if this is regular driving culture there, but it definitely didn’t happen in the other areas of New England that we explored this week. Though I will say, everyone was very friendly everywhere we went.

It reminded me of the country roads on which I grew up, and how passing another car on the gravel roads was so seldom that we always waved at each other when it happened. I wonder, what are the cool things that people in your community do that add a little “happy” into your day? Please share!

Amicable Allegory #8: The right place at the right time

Have you ever had the feeling that your day worked out  exactly how it did  for a very particular reason? Like, when you forgot your coffee one morning, and found your stove burner still turned on when you went in to retrieve your drink? I like to think these are little ways God (or angels or spirits or the flying spaghetti monster) looks out for us, keeps us safe.

Well, I think I just had another one of those moments. My husband and I drove into NYC for the first time yesterday. Usually we take the train, but we have to go to Brooklyn in a few weeks by car, and wanted to do a “dry run” of the journey. Normally I would have tuckered out halfway into the drive (cars make me sleepy), but for some reason, I drove the first few hours without a problem.  We pulled into a rest-area to trade-off driving and fuel up. Even though we had to stop at the food plaza, I drove right past it to the fuel pumps without thinking. There was no lanes to return to the plaza, so while Jake pumped the gas, I ran in and used the ladies room, and when I returned, Jake ran in to use the men’s room. As I sat there waiting for him to come back, an older woman (I’m guessing late 60’s or so) asked me “Is there an attendant around? Do you think they check tire pressure here?” I told her I doubted it, but up ahead there was an air pump, so she could fill up her tires there. Dismayed, she said, “I have no idea how to do it. I just have a light in my car that says the tire pressure is low.” Without hesitation, I replied, “Well, when my husband gets back to the car, we can help you with the tires. We have a tire pressure gauge.” She was elated and very grateful, and I was equally happy we were there to help. When Jake returned, he quickly filled her tires (they all needed 10 pounds of pressure–good thing she stopped) and I chatted with her while we waited. She was impressed us “young people” were so helpful, and I said, “Oh, that’s just how I was raised,” and told her about the Be Nice. project. She asked for my contact information, so I gave her a pamphlet and postcard along with my information. She took me into her arms with a warm, joy-filled hug, and then took Jake’s hand and pressed something into it, thanking us heartedly. We told her no thanks was necessary–we were just happy to be of service, but she insisted we take what she gave us, no arguments allowed. It was a twenty dollar bill.

Jake and I were blown away by her enormous generosity and gratitude. She had said to us, “Not many people would have helped me, or even paid attention.”  And I thought, “Some people might have even taken advantage of the situation by swindling her or demanding money.” Jake and I were simply happy to help, without a single thought of a reward. The twenty dollars was an unexpected ( and unnecessary) bonus, and it got me thinking. [I’m not meaning this impending thought-stream in any negative way toward our wonderful new friend on the thruway. It just made me wonder….] Wasn’t there a time when people used to help others in need without expecting anything in return? I swear it was like that when I was a kid. Often a proper show of gratitude was a warm smile, a hug or a hand shake, an invitation to dinner, or a thank you note. But today, it seems like repayment or rewards are expected, and the standard currency for gratitude is money. I wonder how that came to be? Is an “I’ll do something, but not for nothing” mentality prevailing in our culture? (This mentality sounds a lot like the attitude, “I’ll give them a wedding gift, but only because they invited me to their party and they’re feeding me.”) Or, is the good feeling of doing what’s right not enough for some people any more?  There was certainly a time when a monetary show of thanks was unnecessary, possibly even offensive. But nowadays, there are people who feel resentment when they are not given “proper”, equivalent, or reciprocal thanks (i.e., a similarly priced gift, an invitation to an equally lavish event, or a monetary reward). What changed?

There are millions of people in the world who do give for the joy of giving, who help strangers because they like to do it. But what saddens me is that there are a large number of folks who give, but with an agenda or an expectation of similar repayment. When did we start keeping track of who-gave-what’s and who-owes-who? And can we find a way to free ourselves from that thinking? Because it costed me nothing but a little bit of time to help that fantastic woman, and it felt so great to know that God put me in just the right place to be able to do it. For me, that was worth more than anything.

Self-defenses and self-deprecation

Living in an urban area can make people very combative. Constantly confronted by random people, noises, distractions, unpleasant sounds and smells; we can find it difficult to feel serene, calm or receptive in an environment like this. And when we feel on the defensive or overwhelmed, manners take a back seat or get thrown out entirely. Recently I experienced two incidents where I handled seemingly inconvenient situations with positive behaviors. Each one brought a completely different result. I’d like to share them here.

Situation 1

I had just spent 1-1/2 hours working out at the gym and then completed a huge grocery shopping trip, so needless to say I was feeling awesome! I had loaded the groceries into my Jeep, and proceeded to start the car.  Looking around before I backed out of my spot, I noticed a gentleman in a big pick-up backing out to my left . So I waited. The truck was so large, it couldn’t get out easily, and there was a man loading things slowly into his hatchback that happened to be right in the path of the truck, causing him to stop just 6 or 8 inches from being clear enough to drive away. We both waited for 5 minutes while the man continued to load his groceries, meanwhile I noticed that if I backed straight out of my spot I could exit the lot through the empty parking space the truck had made, and free us both from our predicament. So, I rolled down my window, smiled at the man and gestured  in a way that I thought was suggesting I move my vehicle. Not a moment passed and the man opened his door and growled–yelled–“Don’t you see that this asshole is holding me up! $%@*#%!” and he tore out of the lot nearly tearing off my bumper in the process. I was horrified! And the poor man with the hatchback was baffled as well. I apologized to the man, explaining what had happened, and then moved on with my day, allthewhile pondering the truck-man’s behavior.

Situation 2

I live on a very busy 2 lane street with cars on either side.Driving down this street is like playing chicken with pedestrians and busses and other cars  for a mile!  Not a few days after “Situation 1” I was on my way to run a few errands, heading hurriedly down my street. As I was stopped at a red light, these 2 young women began to very slowly cross the street. The light immediately turned green right as the women mindlessly paused in the middle of the street to gawk at something-or-other. I knew I would miss my light and be held up, but I didn’t want to be rude either. So, I tapped my horn lightly and smiled and waved at the women when they looked at me. They were surprised but smiled, waved (perhaps they thought they knew me), and moved on across the street so I could pass through the intersection. Problem free!

These two situations have many things in common; I tried to be positively proactive to alleviate a typically frustrating situation that involved complete strangers in a communal public space. In one case I was very successful, and in the other I was met with instant aggression and anger.  This is a very common experience for someone who tries to act constructively instead of react emotionally. So when this happens to you remember first to have some compassion for the cranky guy/gal that is muddling up your niceness. And the second thing to do? Move on and stay positive. 

It is easy for people to build and build their frustrations and hostility to the point where any trigger can set them off. And remember, it’s cathartic to give in to those feelings. While living in an urban area can be extra stressful, we must all work extra hard to avoid letting our self-defenses become self-deprecating behaviors. These behaviors will continuously eliminate the possibility of good and pleasant interactions happening in our lives. So not only will we feel regret for our emotional blow-outs, but we will then be systematically denied rewarding interactions. Better to be positive as best and often as you can, wouldn’t you say? It’s hard work to stay positive with the barrage of negativity that hits us, but it’s worth it! Trust me!

Share the road

It was a beautiful day. Sunny sky, sixty degrees in the northeast in November. Gorgeous. I had woken up early and gotten so much work done. Just off to the store for a few odds and ends… dental floss, facial tissues, and shampoo. We parked our car, and should have sensed it then–the frenzy, the cars jetting through the parking lot. But we didn’t.

No, we didn’t get run into while driving. (Had ya guessing though, didn’t I?) But as we walked to the store, two women approached on the same sidewalk. My husband and I naturally moved to single-file walking, and expected the other women to do the same. But they didn’t. They kept walking side by side. I was determined not to surrender the half of the sidewalk to which I was entitled. So I continued walking. But in the game of pedestrian “chicken,” I lost and got my goose cooked. My husband and I were rudely, mindlessly shoved onto the roadway, into traffic. Not cool. 

So for those of you who share the sidewalks like we share the roads (stay to the right, walk single-file with oncoming traffic), right on! And if you don’t, well, do try in the future. It’s an easy courtesy and one that takes almost no effort!

© Be Nice. Creator and Be Nice. (, 2008-2009

Driving Do’s and Don’ts Part 2

Here’s part 2 of my driving do’s and don’ts. These are general things one can do or avoid to be considerate drivers.

Tip #1:      Since when are you so important? Don’t cut people off–it’s rude, it induces road rage, and it is dangerous. Even if someone is dying or a baby is about to be born, it would be a bigger shame if you never made it there because you got in a wreck or you ran someone over because of your rushed driving.

Tip #2:      Remember what it’s like to be on foot. Stop before crosswalks and give pedestrians right of way. To the pedestrians: a little hustle or jog through a crosswalk when there is traffic waiting to go through is always considerate (& if it comes to a showdown, you’ll probably lose). Also, use the crosswalks rather than crossing the street just anywhere.

Tip #3:      To bicyclers: if you are in traffic, you are like a car. Running red lights is hazardous and wrong. If you are on the sidewalk, you should stop at every intersection. Once a biker zoomed out into a crosswalk going 15 mph when I had a green light and was turning right. It was impossible to see him coming, and I nearly ran him over. Not cool.

Tip #4:      Don’t text while driving. Ever. Period.

Tip #5:      Can’t the call wait? Ten years ago most of us did without cell phones just fine. My lord, how did we ever keep all that information inside until we got to a landline?! People that talk on their phone while driving often drive too slow, too fast, forget to signal, weave in traffic, run red lights, and so on.  Best not to do it or keep it to emergencies only. Besides, you miss a lot of interesting scenery when you are distracted or “double-tasking.”

Tip #6:      Emergency Alertness:  check mirrors and keep music at a reasonable volume so you can see and hear emergency vehicles.

Tip #7:      Shoulders are for breakdowns or for friends to lean on (tee hee!). Don’t pass on the shoulder or use it to get to an exit. That’s a surefire way to get side-swiped.

Tip #8:      Show some respect. In some communities, a funeral procession warrants people pulling over and stopping as it passes to show respect for the loved ones of the deceased (as in, “What I have going on is of no importance in the face of your loss and your grief.”). If this isn’t a tradition in your community, you should be aware of it (and hopefully honor it) in the places to which you travel.


© Be Nice. Creator and Be Nice. (, 2008-2009.