On being nice (and cynical) these days

Something big happened today.

Drum Roll…..

A complete stranger was really, really nice to me.

And get this….

…..there was no ulterior motive!

The scene of this crime gesture was at the doors of a Glasgow church hall.

Steam was coming out of my ears.

I had just humphed a buggy down a ma-hoo-sive hill at high speed, braving our August monsoon to attend a local toddler group for the first time.

Despite previously being a human being semi-capable of performing a high stress job, I find these kind of firsts particularly nerve-wracking; my daily deadlines these days fraught with domestic bear traps, set to prevent me from getting out of the front door in any kind of organised or timely manner.

Unsurprisingly, today was to be no different and, if anything, was worse.

When I arrived at the church hall (dishevelled, grumpy and approximately thirty minutes late) you can perhaps imagine my reaction when I established that the doors were in fact locked.

It later transpired I was so damn organised* that I had actually turned up a week early.

*Alas though, I cannot take credit for this – the organiser had emailed me the wrong term dates.

Just as I was about to flick the vees at The Big Man, a porthole in the iron door snapped open. And then the door itself creaked too, revealing a portly lady with a big smile.

“Och, come away my dear. Out the rain. You’ll catch your death!”

Think Mrs Doubtfire.

My gut reaction was to say “no, it’s ok thanks,” and then have a minor rant about the community centre administrator being a disorganised muppet before duly stomping off.

But somehow, I resisted.

My second reaction was of suspicion. I won’t go into the ins and outs of my religious beliefs (or otherwise), but let’s just say that I didn’t fancy being held hostage in a church, forcing polite conversation with little prospect of quick escape.

Long story short, Lynne (the church’s cleaner and congregation member), as I now know her to be, somehow managed to coax me inside with the promise of tea and biscuits and a haven from the rain.

With a tetchy wet toddler in tow it seemed churlish to refuse, despite my inner teenager screaming at me to cut my nose off to spite my face and trudge back home immediately.

And, you know what, I’m so glad I went in.

Lynne was warm, lovely and delighted to feed my daughter biscuits in return for her babble and smiles. She told me about her upcoming wedding and hopes for a family of her own in the future in some form, acknowledging her middle age. Not once did she mention Sunday school.

I left an hour later, still in the pouring rain, but with a smile on my face and no feelings of having had a wasted trip.

And no, I haven’t been radicalised but I did discover a beautiful bright, welcoming space lurking despite the foreboding exterior. Perfect for toddlers to run wild.

Maybe that’s just the Christian spirit, or maybe not, but there was certainly no moral obligation upon her to offer me shelter from the storm.

Either or both ways, Lynne was just a very very nice woman.

Nevertheless, this incident prompted me to examine what it means in my world to be nice in favour form.

I’m sad to say that today made me realise that I hardly ever offer to do people favours just to be *nice* anymore.

*I distinguish this from grudgingly saying “yes” when specifically asked to do someone a favour.*

Like passing the salt, or something.

I used to be a much kinder person, I think. Then I got old, or cynical or ? Or maybe life just got faster; interactions more fleeting. The advent of social media making human contact less relevant.

I’m now that woman struggling with a screaming child at the top of the stairs with fifty shopping bags, people just walking past like I’m invisible. But it’s also true that I’m one of the people who walks past “me,” head down, texting (or pretending to) when I could be offering a spare hand.

I also happen to carry several war stories about unconditional favours back firing on me. Somewhere along the line I built ramparts, sweeping life lessons learned and applied indiscriminately on the perils of being too nice.

It really is a jungle out there.

Or maybe it’s just me?

I could cite some horrific personal who’s, what’s and possible whys here, but I shan’t dredge.

Tempting as it is, maybe another time.

Could the root of the problem be, as I discovered, that nice people are the easiest to flog?

Or is it a fear of being assumed to be a weirdo or having an ulterior motive in being nice, as I assumed of Lynne today?

Or do we just not care as much anymore?

I’m not sure where Nice Favours got so lost and when it became so surprising to bump into him.

Was he ever there to begin with, or am I just being nostalgic?

But at least now I remember….

It is nice to be nice.

And by that I mean, without conditions.

Thanks Lynne!

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23 thoughts on “On being nice (and cynical) these days

  1. I’m with you…just a bit cynical of the kindness of a complete stranger. Can it be that someone is being nice just for the sake of being nice? Sounds like it. I’m glad to know there are Lynne’s left in the world. Who knows – maybe you were giving her a much needed break and a little human contact by accepting her hospitality.

    As for being taken advantage of in the past; I have learned to set boundaries. I have to constantly work on this.

    As for your present – Mom’s with little ones are in a season of life when they have a full plate already. It is a really stressful job. Sometimes, it is a lonely job. In my opinion (oh, you didn’t ask), you’re off the hook for a few years where offering up favors is concerned. Even when asked, it is okay to say “no” once in a while when someone asks for a favor beyond: Please pass the salt.

    I enjoyed reading this post and how you interjected humor into an otherwise soggy day.

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    • Thanks Robin. Lynne really saved the day yesterday – this post could have been oh so different! I suspect the community administrator could have been the butt of the joke. I’m delighted to accept the “get out of jail free card” on doing too many favours when juggling a little person – its easy to give myself a hard time whilst forgetting that I myself have a lot of new priorities and so thanks for reminding me. Thanks also for reading and for leaving such a great comment.

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  2. Pingback: On being nice (and cynical) these days | Christians Anonymous

  3. What?! Someone being nice just to be nice?! What next? People who smile just for the hell of it? People who help carry your bags and don’t want 10 dollars for it? Ridiculous!

    I hear what you’re saying, by the way—hopefully random acts of kindness become the norm rather than the exception these days.

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    • Hi Daniel. It’s quite sad really isn’t it. I hadn’t really taken a step back to consider it until the other day. It’s not the end of the world but (as my mother would say) “it’s not like it was in our day” – quite rightly as the world has become a lot smaller but the selfishness of society today just seems a lot more marked. Thanks so much for reading and commenting!

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  4. Wonderful storytelling, and thoughtful. Maybe holding onto this memory of unexpected kindness will be an antidote to unkindness, as well as inspiration…

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  5. I’m a cynical optimist, myself. I do get suspicious — but that’s from years of being the shy, unnoticed girl in school. And usually, when someone was SUPER nice to me it’s because something obnoxious had been done and they were hoping to see my reaction. Or maybe I dreamt all that. Anyway, I enjoyed this post!

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    • Hi there. Sounds like you an I have had a few similar finger burning incidents! The sad thing is that I generally shut myself off from interactions like the one in this post because of my own historic interpersonal disasters. Shame really – I must try harder 😉 thanks for reading and taking time to comment!

      Liked by 1 person

  6. (Gonna join the cynical bandwagon on this one)
    There’s a reason most people don’t do those kind of things. Fact is, evolution has taught us to be very selfish. That’s one of the things that keeps people alive in times of turmoil (that statement is oversimplified, and even debatable, but bear with me), and human history has a long list of such times. Most, if not all things we do are aimed to bring us some sort of ulterior benefit, whether conscious (money, better social reputation, material goods, professional progression etc…) or more sub conscious motives (sexual, human contact, empathy, boredom etc…). As a matter of fact, I suspect that that act of kindness was also driven by a unconscious motive. Now, only having a few words to work with, that last sentence is a bold one, and maybe that person was truly one of the few selfless gems of modern society. You’ll be the better judge.
    Thanks for sharing!

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    • Hi DragonSpark – interesting! You are quite possibly correct on motives still being present. I got away though 😇 I suppose your comment had got me thinking about my own slam the door attitude towards other people’s motives coming at me. Do I have a motive when I’m out and about? I’m sad to say that I don’t think I do. Must work on this and get ready to use it as a pitch fork 😉 thanks for your thought provoking comment!

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  7. I was talking to my friends while on vacation recently and one of them mentioned that they instruct their kids to seek out a woman with kids if they ever get lost. I get why this is sound advice, but I was still offended (being a very trustworthy childless man). I spoke up and they told me they knew the advice was unreasonably stereotypical, but kids need solid rules.

    All of this is to say that I don’t help people as much as I should because I fear it might make matters worse. That conversation with my friends will make me think twice about approaching a lost child in a supermarket. For fear their parents told them the same thing that my parents did.

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    • It’s a tricky subject but for what’s its worth, I have sympathy with you on this one. There are two stranger-danger incidents from my very young childhood that my parents and I occasionally discuss. The most relevant here is the time my mum and dad lost me at a carnival when I was around 2 (I was fast rather than them being negligent). They eventually found me on the shoulders of a man in his 30s, who appeared to be alone. He seemed friendly and I was not distressed. Having been taught to relay my name and address as soon as I could talk, he had said he was hoping that on his shoulders I might spot mum and dad more easily. Thankfully, they spotted me and so we were reunited, but we’ll never know whether this was a kind or sinister incident. The second story is far more disturbing and don’t want to give you nightmares!
      Thanks for stopping by and commenting. It’s always great to see you over here!

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  8. I loved reading this post 🙂 I know excatly what you mean – age is definitely a factor (I feel being older it’s my god given right to have a good grumble at times!) but also, I have fought tooth and nail (often with myself!) to retain my faith in human beings. Just because some git is a rude *&%! I try like hell not to resort to their tactics and pray like crazy that karma comes and kicks them in the proverbial tout bloody suite! 😀 I think when you change you’re own inner dialogue to stop look listen and help, you somehow draw more of the same back towards you, on the opposite side – it’s like Angry likes Angry 🙂

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    • Thank you so much for your lovely words! I absolutely agree. Little incidents like this one are great for challenging the inner dialogue and keep me on my toes. I’m delighted you enjoyed this post! 😉

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