Nice People

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.

I 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 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. That wasn’t very nice. My other friends joined me. Three of us sat on him. 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 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.

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 question with “I will.” He told me to answer these words with: “I’ll do my best.”

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

One day, he fell two stories. 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 it.

I know a man who is eighty-six. Whenever I leave him, 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.”

That might be true, but I also believe you deserve to be happy. That’s almost unachievable in today’s world, but it’s not impossible I don’t think.

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. You won’t land on the Today Show, doing cooking demonstrations with Kathy Lee and Hoda. You will still be attacked by schnoz-whistles with inferiority complexes.

You’ll still have rough days. You’ll still meet unkind folks in Columbus, with very white backsides. You’ll still wake up with arthritis. You’ll still miss loved ones. You’ll still 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.

38 comments

  1. GaryD - January 3, 2019 9:28 am

    That last sentence instantly made me think of another great story-teller, the late great Ludlow Porch. He would always sign off his radio show with the words “Whatever else you do today, find somebody to be nice to. “ ‘Nice’ is a small word but if we all practiced it we would make a big difference in this scarey world we live in. Thanks for reminding us, Sean. You’re nice.

    Reply
  2. Sandi. - January 3, 2019 10:16 am

    My sweet mother often said, “Be nicer than necessary to everybody you encounter.”
    It doesn’t cost a penny to be kind and nice.

    Reply
  3. Mary Ellen Hall - January 3, 2019 10:51 am

    I LOVE THIS Sean! MANY of these statements have been relayed to me throughout my life. I ESPECIALLY LIKE your advice to “Be HAPPY!”
    GREAT IDEAS for “New Year’s Resolutions”-THANK YOU!”
    Oh; and “HAPPY NEW YEAR” to you, your SWEET wife, & those 2 ADORABLE PUPS!!!🎆🎉🐶🐶

    Reply
  4. Johnny Parker - January 3, 2019 11:25 am

    You keep me humble, Sean, everyday. That’s a good place to be. Thanks!

    Reply
  5. Grace Clark Crouch - January 3, 2019 11:45 am

    Please give us an update on the baby’s condition.

    Reply
    • Jean - February 3, 2019 1:58 pm

      I would like that also.

      Reply
  6. Camille - January 3, 2019 12:03 pm

    Being open minded makes it much easier to be everything else, IMHO.

    Reply
  7. Diane Beck - January 3, 2019 12:59 pm

    Thank you! That was PERFECT! So thankful your neice is better!!! RTR!!!!

    Reply
  8. geri worley - January 3, 2019 1:41 pm

    Great post, Sean. I believe you were quoting from the Book of Parentheses.

    Reply
    • Robert Chiles - January 4, 2019 9:35 pm

      Parentheses 4:6 It’s almost as good as 2nd Hesitations

      Reply
  9. Jo Ann - January 3, 2019 1:43 pm

    Wouldn’t it be wonderful if everyone (myself included) could be nice? (or at least try)

    Reply
  10. Barbara Assell - January 3, 2019 1:46 pm

    Sean, I went to Auburn University, NOT the University of Auburn. But I can overlook this tiny mistake because your stories are the first thing I read every morning for a great start to my day, even if I’m in tears. Bless Jamie for always encouraging you and making you believe in yourself. And bless you for always being positive and encouraging to others.

    Reply
    • Vicky Wesson - January 3, 2019 7:55 pm

      Auburn University! Glad you corrected that faux pas!

      Reply
  11. Connie Havard Ryland - January 3, 2019 1:57 pm

    I love you and your momma. I’ve preached those words to my kids their whole lives. Be nice. Be safe. Be kind. Be tolerant and loving. Treat other people like you want to be treated. Be content. If it’s worth having, it’s worth working for. Mom words. Most of my wrinkles are from smiling. Most of my aching joints are from working hard. I have had my share of heartache but I’m happy most of the time with what I have. I’m not rich and never will be. Not with money or things but I am happy with what I have and who I am.

    Reply
  12. Shelton A. - January 3, 2019 2:10 pm

    Always trust ladies who have words of true wisdom. Be kind and be nice. Two things you can do that will help you get along in this world.

    Reply
  13. MermaidGrammy - January 3, 2019 2:35 pm

    This should be Required Reading for every person in the civilized world at least daily. Beautiful! I imagine the people in “uncivilized” places already live this way. We seem to socialize these natural instincts out of our children and each other. Happy 2019 Sweet Sean

    Reply
  14. Terri Donovan - January 3, 2019 2:37 pm

    At first one of my 2019 NY resolutions was to be nice. Then I got confused and told my husband it was to be kind. That made me start thinking about the difference between nice and kind. I think kind is nicer than nice. It’s like another step in the nice game. Beyond nice. So I have changed it to: be kind. Either way, it means I have to stop thinking and saying a lot of the things I think and say in the mornings when I was the news. That’s the hardest part of something that’s already hard.

    Reply
  15. Martha - January 3, 2019 2:46 pm

    And one I didn’t see here and want to add, my daddy’s…..be sweet.

    Reply
  16. Nancy Wright - January 3, 2019 3:44 pm

    I apologize for the obnoxious Auburn fan, Sean. We have some of those, but most of us try to be nice.

    Reply
  17. Edna B. - January 3, 2019 4:35 pm

    Wonderful story. I always try to be “kind’ and “nice” to others. Sometimes I get stomped on, but most times it makes me very happy. Sean, you have a wonderful day. Hugs, Edna B.

    Reply
  18. Alice Grimes - January 3, 2019 5:25 pm

    Good one Sean. Your mother is a very wise and caring woman. I wish I lived back in Alabama so maybe I would get meet you and especially your mom.

    Reply
  19. Barbara Parker - January 3, 2019 6:16 pm

    It’s AUUBURN UNIVERSITY not the University of Auburn. We’re a little touchy about that

    Reply
  20. Sally - January 3, 2019 6:29 pm

    My Moma never said, “be careful”. Moma said, “be particular”…never heard anyone else use that word when telling someone leaving to go to work or when leaving to go home after a visit. My Moma was born in 1927, never had the advantage of more than a partial 3rd grade education. But, I think she was on to something. To me, I felt that she was telling me to be extra careful and selective in choices. I tell my son, when he is leaving on a trip, “Be careful! Stay safe! I love you!

    Reply
    • Barbara Bray - February 3, 2019 3:05 pm

      Sally, I thought my Daddy was the only one to say ” Be particular” !! ( He was born in 1919 in Georgia.) We never left the house that he didn’t say that … I think of it often and use it sometime to honor Daddy I guess. Daddy had four daughters and when it was time to say the blessing before a meal he didn’t tell us to bow our heads..he would say , ” y’all be pretty “.

      Reply
  21. Bev - January 3, 2019 8:56 pm

    👍🏻❤️

    Reply
  22. Haskel J P - January 3, 2019 9:42 pm

    Sean, you,ve been chided enough already but my diploma reads Auburn University and as far as the tavern idiot goes, we just say that “he’s not Auburn”. Needless to say but the University of Alabama at Tuscaloosa has more than it’s share of these same obtuse folks.

    Reply
  23. Ginger Smith - January 3, 2019 10:05 pm

    Hope Lucy is better!

    I’m grew up in Columbus, Georgia. Most folks there are great, sorry you had that terrible experience. And we love you Auburn folks, and Alabama folks, and of course, the GA Dawgs! Dad graduated from Alabama in 1941, brother from Auburn, husband and daughter from Georgia and I’m a proud Columbus State Cougar! So you’ll find everyone in Columbus!

    Reply
  24. Jack Quanstrum - January 4, 2019 2:16 am

    Amen!

    Reply
  25. Joe Allen Turner - January 4, 2019 5:36 am

    I am 87 years old andI remember as a child when my brother and I went to play in the neighborhood our mother always said, “Be sweet”.

    Reply
  26. Robert Chiles - January 4, 2019 9:41 pm

    For years I counseled couples before I got to officiate at their weddings, and I advised them all to just “Be nice!”

    Reply
  27. Vicki - February 3, 2019 10:13 am

    I told my boys as they left the house, and now my granddaughter, be good, have fun, and learn something.

    Reply
  28. Donna Anderson - February 3, 2019 1:03 pm

    It’s easy to be a jerk to someone when your emotions are affected by them but so much more can be accomplished by being nice.

    Reply
  29. Carolyn Kelley 😊 - February 3, 2019 1:16 pm

    Love this post, you are so right there is to much ugliness in this world today. A little bit of kindness and understanding goes a long way . ❤️

    Reply
  30. Bob Banks - February 3, 2019 1:22 pm

    Another Auburn grad who has to admit that we have a few of those fans though I would wager that this jerk was not a graduate.
    My grandmother, a gentle lady always personified kindness but would often correct our foolishness with the admonition to not be TACKY. I don’t believe I have heard that word since she died in 1969. Have you ever encountered that one?
    Bob

    Reply
  31. Barbara Bray - February 3, 2019 2:54 pm

    Loved the story…A quote I wrote at the top of my classroom chalkboard every year was …” It is nice to be important…but it is more important to be nice “.

    Reply
  32. Debbie Shiflett - February 3, 2019 3:12 pm

    I only remember my grandmother saying this one when I was a little bitty thing. She would say to me and my friends to “play pretty’. Anybody else ever hear that one? I’m 66 this year, so I guess it goes way back.

    Reply
  33. Gale Smith - February 3, 2019 3:29 pm

    Had an uncle who was considered quite a sport in his day. He always said ” Be good, and if you can’t be good, Be careful, and if you can’t be careful, Be quick.”

    Reply
  34. Mignon c. Watson - February 4, 2019 9:05 pm

    Trust words were never spoken. Thank you!!!!!!

    Reply

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