Nice Guys Finish Best

I recently saw a man in a gas station scream at a cashier. The cashier was a young girl. She made a mistake and overcharged him for gas. The man lost it. I watched the whole thing happen. He stormed out of the convenience store and sped away, leaving skid marks.

She was embarrassed.

“Oh, man,” she said. “I really screwed up.”

“No you didn’t,” said a nice man standing in line. “He did.”

Be nice. That’s what my mother always told me. And I never knew her to be wrong. This was her highest aspiration for my life. She wanted me to use a soft voice, good manners, and to treat people the way I’d treat Pope Francis.

Admittedly, I have failed her many times. There was the time I was watching the Iron Bowl at a tavern in Columbus, with friends. I was seventeen, but I managed to sneak into the joint.

There was a man at the bar in an Auburn T-shirt who kept shouting ugly things to my pals. When he tossed a glass of beer into my friend Arnold’s face things went crazy.

Arnold weighed a buck five, soaking wet, and had a stutter, he could not seem to defend himself. It took three of us to pry the man loose.

The rowdy hit me beneath the jaw so hard I bit my own tongue and said a word that is not approved by the Southern Baptist Convention™.

In the heat of the moment, I sat on the man’s chest because I didn’t know what else to do. That wasn’t very nice. My other friends joined me. Three of us sat on him like we were waiting for the three o’clock bus. My mother would’ve disowned me.

The bartender, a graduate from the University of Auburn, splashed a glass of ice water in the man’s face and shouted “You schnoz-whistle! People like you give us Auburn folks a bad name!”

“LET ME GO!” the man shouted.

“BE NICE!” shouted the bartender. “AND WE’LL LET YOU GO!”

When we let him free, the man leapt to his feet, dropped his trousers and showed us the full moon over Muscogee County.

And I’ve never forgotten the word “schnoz-whistle.”

“Be careful.” That’s something else Mama used to tell me.

My father, however, warned me never to answer this phrase with “I will.” He told me to answer these words with: “I’ll do my best.”

Because long ago my mother used to tell him to “be careful,” or “be safe” before he left for work, welding lap splices on thirty-story iron skyscrapers. And he would always answer, “I will,” then kiss her goodbye.

One day, he fell several stories and landed on his head. When he awoke he was in a hospital and couldn’t feel anything from the neck down. Doctors poked needles into his feet and into his hands.

My father said he made a deal with the Almighty. He promised to be a devout man if God would heal him.

The next day, he awoke with feeling in his body. And he would be an evangelical for the rest of his life. And it is for this reason that I still feel bad whenever I open a beer can in public.

“Be good.” This is something my grandfather would tell me. In fact, it’s something a lot of elderly men say, and I’m crazy about this term. Be good. How wonderful.

I know a man who is eighty-six. Whenever we part ways he says, “Be good. And if you can’t be good, be good at it.” Then he laughs.

“Be happy.” This one is from me to you. I descend from pessimistic people who believe in the unwritten scripture: “Blessed is he who does not expect much out of life for he will not be disappointed.” And well, that might be true, but I refuse to believe it. What I do believe is that you deserve to be happy. Which is almost unachievable in today’s pandemic-ridden world.

But it’s not impossible

“Be kind.” That’s from my aunt, who used to say, “You’re a nice-looking boy, ugly just don’t look good on you.”

Be yourself. Life is too short to be anyone else. Be generous. Be forgiving. Be open-minded. Be understanding. Be silly. Be childish. Be spontaneous. Be sincere. And be decent. It won’t make you successful; it won’t bring you fame and fortune; it won’t land on the “Today Show,” doing cooking demonstrations with Hoda. But do it anyway.

In this life you will be attacked by schnoz-whistles with inferiority complexes. I guarantee that you’lld have rough days. You’ll meet unkind folks in Columbus, with very white backsides. You’ll eventually wake up with arthritis. You’ll miss loved ones. You’ll see new wrinkles on your face and gray hairs on your head.

But you’ll also see something else when you look in the mirror. A person who you can be proud of.

At least that’s what a wise woman once told me. And I never knew her to be wrong.

Whatever you do in this world, be nice.


  1. oldlibrariansshelf - March 4, 2021 6:54 am

    Thanks, Sean, for reminding us. The same internet service which brings me your wisdom each morning also brings me social media which too often gets ugly. Some days I don’t check Facebook posts at all, but I ALWAYS read your essay of the day. Keep writing. Help keep us nice. 🙂

  2. Dean - March 4, 2021 10:03 am

    Look forward to your column every morning it helps get my day off to a good start. I have always tried to be nice and do for others but i have failed so many times but I keep trying. It doesn’t cost anything to be nice.

  3. stephenpe - March 4, 2021 10:45 am

    I have a nephew named Sean but I swear this Sean is my brother from another mother. Being kind is my motto. A forum member told me yesterday I was the kindest person he knew. I told him being around small kids for four decades means you are either kind or you fail. I taugh Elem PE for 39 yrs. One of the best parts of my days is this coffee, biscotti and Sean’s story.

    • Pat De Loncker - March 4, 2021 11:15 am


    • Cheryl Andrews - March 4, 2021 1:29 pm

      Wonderful advise! So many need to hear this, especially me. I might be nice on the outside, but
      I sometimes don’t have very nice thoughts on the inside. But I want to be wholly nice, so I’ll try harder. Thanks again!

  4. Pat De Loncker - March 4, 2021 11:14 am

    Very good advice
    It just makes life more pleasant for everyone!

  5. joan moore - March 4, 2021 11:21 am


  6. Leigh Amiot - March 4, 2021 11:31 am

    Sean, it was very nice of you to sit on that schnoz-whistle’s chest as opposed to, say, landing a bar stool atop his head, especially after what he did to you! It was all I could do not to burst out laughing at this scene—my husband is still sleeping, so I need to be nice…and quiet. As a mother of young men now in their 30s, I’d be proud of them if they defended a friend by sitting on a bully. And on the topic of happiness, I often think of something attributed to Abraham Lincoln, paraphrase, that people are about as happy as they make up their minds to be. We definitely can choose to be happy, nice, and kind. In this pandemic, choosing contentment has been my challenge and goal. Never underestimate the ability of your shared words to bring all manner of niceness, happiness and kindness to your readers.

    • Brenda Stone - March 4, 2021 3:12 pm

      I saw a comment yesterday that I really like and will try to do, “spread kindness like confetti”.

  7. Bar - March 4, 2021 12:28 pm

    When I’d leave the house my mama would tell me to “Be pretty” and she wasn’t referring to my appeaerance.

  8. Bar - March 4, 2021 12:29 pm

    My appearance … sorry.

  9. Jo - March 4, 2021 12:53 pm

    What a great way to start the day!! Sean. Thanks again for the reminders. Made me laugh then wipe tears. When encountering angry folks, I hafta remind myself not to take it personal. Something else is bad wrong in their life at the moment and I just happened to be in the line of fire. Have a great day! To each and all..

  10. Cheryl Thompson - March 4, 2021 12:55 pm

    Sorry that guy was wearing an auburn T-shirt. Obviously not a graduate.

  11. CM in Auburn (an AU grad who lives in Auburn and has delt w/ this type from most SEC schools...) - March 4, 2021 1:13 pm

    Exactly, not an Auburn grad. What we refer to as pickup-truck alumni. Every school has them, unfortunately!

  12. Joey - March 4, 2021 1:13 pm

    My mama always told me to “be sweet” when I left the house. I should have listened.

  13. Kate - March 4, 2021 1:22 pm

    Being Kind is always important, but if you watch or read the news, it seems most have forgotten how to be kind. Therefore, I quit watching or reading the news. I do not like people who act ugly, it does not look good on anyone. I read Sean instead, and I feel better about people and life because MOST people are good and kind, we just don’t hear about them. So once again, thank you Sean.

  14. Jo Ann - March 4, 2021 1:24 pm

    Good morning, Sean. (it’s morning where I am) Be nice-great advice, but often difficult & I am not always successful. I do like “schnoz-whistle”, though. Better than a lot of names we could call people. Thanks again for your writing.

  15. Peggy Thompson - March 4, 2021 1:32 pm

    Wonderful advise…Thank you!
    Everyone have a nice day!

  16. Connie - March 4, 2021 2:00 pm

    I needed to read this. I made it to work after having been tailgated by a rude jerk in a truck twice my size, and having some other idiot cross in front of me pulling a trailer, causing me to call him a few not so nice words. But I try to live by these words from two very important women in my life. My grandma said “pretty is as pretty does” so, since I never thought I was pretty, I could act pretty. To me that means be nice, be polite, be kind. And my mom drilled the Golden Rule-“do unto others as you would have them do unto you” into my head. So I try to treat others the way I want them to treat me. It may not work all the time, but I can look at myself in the mirror every day and know I’m trying to be a good person. Love and hugs.

  17. Jan - March 4, 2021 2:21 pm

    Love you, Sean, and I love your column. As an Auburn alum and member of a huge Auburn family, I must point out that “schnoz-whistles” come in all flavors / from all schools. As a spectator at SEC football games for over 50 years, I have witnessed poor behavior from supporters of every school in the SEC and many schools from other conferences. Occasionally it hit close to home.
    I agree with your mother and all the other purveyors of great advice to be nice, be sweet (my mother’s favorite) and be kind. The world would be a much better place if we all observed these suggestions!

  18. Beryl - March 4, 2021 2:24 pm

    What a great day to have been born. Be Kind is the mantra of an organization here called, Ben’s Bells. Be kind to yourself so you can be kind to others. Love yourself so you can love others. It is literally an inside job. You are loved Sean.

  19. Irene Clements - March 4, 2021 3:05 pm

    Shawn, your writings are always meaningful and speak to me but today’s just grabbed me harder than most days. I share your writings often and this one will be shared to a broader audience for sure. Thank you for being an inspiration to so many. I truly wish we could meet and talk as I imagine all of your readers wish as well. Our family fostered for 27 years and during that time we had 127 children join our family. We adopted four. Our life experiences with these incredible children and their families enriched us in ways too numerous to understand. During those years and now beyond, the attributes you speak to in today’s article were “gold” to us as we worked to make life a little better for each of those children and their families. Thank you for being so very caring and so articulate in writing what so many of us feel and believe and hopefully, practice every day to the best of our abilities.

    I plan to share your words with the members of the National Foster Parent Association through our members e-newsletter, the Insider, this month. I believe your words will resonate with each and every foster, kinship and adoptive parent as well as those who work with these families.

  20. Debbie g - March 4, 2021 3:25 pm

    Nice matters. Thank you for always trying to help us be better!!

  21. Ernie from Columbus - March 4, 2021 5:53 pm

    My mama was from Columbus, Georgia and also told us to “be nice.” Apparently schnoz-whistle didn’t have a mama. Please come back to Columbus whenever you can and we’ll show you that he kind people significantly outnumber the whistlers. Blessings.

  22. Linda Moon - March 4, 2021 6:07 pm

    Be nice. Be kind. Maybe all women who are mothers, wives, teachers…maybe we women instinctively want the people we care about to be nice and kind. The man in line was nice, too. Don’t worry, be happy. Have chocolate before breakfast. I did. Be all those other possibilities, too. But if you screw up, apologize and do better next time. Your mother raised a nice young man, Sean Dietrich!

  23. Patricia Gibson - March 4, 2021 6:50 pm


  24. Suzanne Moore - March 4, 2021 7:23 pm

    Such wisdom in every one of these instructions! I bet that you are who you are because you tried to follow every one of them. Thanks, Sean. I send love tou you and your loved ones.

  25. Bob Brenner - March 4, 2021 9:48 pm

    I will do my best ❤️.

  26. Helen De Prima - March 4, 2021 10:06 pm

    My very clever aunt had many wise sayings, one of which was “It’s better to be kind than clever.” (Another was “Cast thy bread upon the water, and it will come back with peanut butter and jelly on it.” But that’s another story.)

  27. Julie, RN - March 5, 2021 3:40 am

    “Nice” was the best advice I got from a nursing instructor who was preparing us to take the State Boards for licensing after graduation. For the multiple choice questions, if we did not know the answer, she said “choose the one that is the nicest intervention…remember, N is for Nice, and N is for Nurse.” That may not have made the difference between Pass or Fail for me…I’ll never know. But it sure felt good whenever my patients told this nurse “you are so nice!”
    Thank you, Sean, for reminding us how important it is to be Nice!

  28. Bobby Roberts - March 6, 2021 1:19 am

    Looked for your story today 3-5 and didn’t get one in my inbox!!! Read this one yesterday. Hope everything is well my friend.

  29. Robert - March 6, 2021 6:41 pm

    That’s what I (as a priest) always told young couples that I was preparing for marriage- “Be nice, just be nice.”

  30. CHARALEEN - June 20, 2021 12:08 am


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