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The Power of Nice

Canadians have a reputation for being nice. I’d like to think it’s well-deserved, but it’s more of a notional goal than a day-to-day reality. Obviously, we have our share of problems, and our own shameful history, but I think that being “nice” is what we should all aspire to.

But what do we mean by the word?

I read the book “The Power of Nice: How to Conquer the Business World with Kindness” about ten years ago, and it had a big impact on me. The book is really about being courteous, ethical, and polite in your interactions with everyone. It’s about establishing a way of living, rather than providing a “tool” for getting what you want. It’s about “random acts of kindness”, and how much of a difference they can make, in ways we may never understand.

Not sure how common this is, but have you ever been in a drive-through line for coffee, only to discover the the person in front of you paid for your order? This is the sort of thing that can radically change your entire day – but think about it. Someone you’ll probably never know did this for a complete stranger.

The basic idea of the book is around emotional intelligence, and around realizing that our mindset is not something we can turn on and off. It’s about deciding the sort of person we want to be, and working toward being that person. This does not mean we should avoid confrontation, but rather that we should be direct and honest is our interactions. It’s about being consistent in our behaviour, no matter whom we are dealing with. Think about how you behave when there is no one watching.

I thought I would write a bit more about “niceness”, but then remembered how much our world has changed in the past decade, and it made me sad to realize that I needed to clarify my meaning so as to try and avoid the swamp of some very dark parts of the internet.

When I think of “nice”, I think of the book above, and of the 1989 film Road House (, in which the protagonist, Dalton (played by Patrick Swayze), says: “Just be nice” ( (It’s really not a good movie, but I still enjoyed it, partly for the “nice” scene, but also for the fact that Jeff Healey also appeared in it.)

Sadly, however, the term “nice” is often associated with the idea of “Nice Guys”, and leads pretty quickly toward the so-called “manosphere” (, which is one of the ugliest parts of the internet, and something I want no part of.

Getting back to how we treat people, though, my own experience is that we should simply treat people the way we want to be treated. Be professional, be courteous, be polite, be honest, and you will be astonished by how far you get.

Sigh. I just realized that “honest” is another word I need to worry about. Just to be clear, being “honest” is not an excuse for behaving horribly, though it’s sometimes used as an excuse for nasty comments. “Just being honest” is right up there with anti-vaxxers saying that they are “just asking questions”. It is entirely possible to provide “negative” feedback in a kind way. A judge on a talent show can be “honest” by saying that it’s not what they’re looking for, and suggesting that the contestant work on gaining for experience in live performance. It’s not necessary (or useful) to say: “that was the worst thing I have ever heard”, or similar things.

While any word can be twisted, the important thing is to be honest with ourselves, and remember that our actions have consequences, and the way we behave matters quite a lot. Far more than most people seem to realize.



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