I was never good at keeping a journal. I fancied myself a throwback in that vein, a Jo March who could not fall asleep until she had detailed the day’s events and feelings. The follow-through just never matched the aspiration.
Writing this column has gotten me close, though.
I look back over the 24 “opinions” I have released into print this year alone, and I find a chronology of personal and shared moments. There is documentation of political and social temperatures, of adventures in parenting, and of the continuing challenge of taming my hair.
I have written about race relations and gun control, Serena Williams and Deflategate, Easter eggs and Halloween candy. I have tried to be funny, to be thoughtful, and to be real.
More often than not, I have fallen short of my goal, returning to the computer two weeks later to try again.
As I walk down that lane of memories paved with my attempts at “being a writer,” I find a tie that binds those writings. Regardless of whether I’m addressing a serious topic or a silly one, a theme emerges. It’s a simple one: let’s be nice.
My first column of 2015 discussed the evolution of friendship, from catty middle school relationships to the honesty of middle-aged sisterhood. Genuine friendship, I remarked, is forgiving and it is flexible.
I wrote several times about the countless demands we all try to keep up with in our lives. We have families, we have jobs, we have communities, we have selves, all of which require attention and maintenance. We presume we must do more, and be more. I tried to convince myself – and, I suppose, to convince you – that the best we can do on any given day is whatever we have done, and the best we can do tomorrow is to get up and give it a go.
I admitted that I get angry too quickly. Context usually teaches me that my anger is misplaced. The lesson I fail to absorb is that anger should not be my emotion of first resort. I was reminded to practice at patience.
I wrangled with the lessons we are trying to teach and learn together. What are the circumstances of race? What is the Second Amendment? What does it mean when terrorists attack Paris? How do we talk about privilege, how do we engage in meaningful discourse, how do we measure tragedy?
Look closely, and you’ll find it. The message, potentially the answer, is that simple one: let’s be nice. Let’s be nice to ourselves, let’s be nice to each other.
Excuse yourself from expectations you did not set. Forgive yourself when you stumble. Encourage yourself by setting goals for improvement, not perfection.
Be compassionate by accepting that your life experience does not define someone else’s. Your reality is not a meaningful measurement of much beyond your reality. Allow for generosity in your perspective.
Be open to compromise. Your personal preferences can be accommodated even while the collective good is enhanced. Allow for an environment where violence is not the easiest answer.
Be frustrated. Channel your frustrations towards positive change. Allow for the loudest voices, screaming words of intolerance, hate and thoughtless provocation, to be drowned out by gentler sentiments.
Be nice. It sounds so simple. It can be so hard.
Many of my columns were written in the aftermath of despair. I fought impulses to indulge in pure rants, or to offer up nothing more than doomsday predictions. Sometimes I gave in to those impulses, like with my column on the viciousness of some sports “fans.”
Somewhere along the way, though, I inevitably found that the good was not gone. It was there, hiding behind the strangers who gave refuge to displaced victims, or the father whose young daughter gave him the strength to confront his looming death. It is sometimes hard to be nice, and it is sometimes hard to see nice, but both are always possible.
Another year is in the paper, as it were. I leave you, and it, with a wish for niceness. Share yours, and may the favor be returned. We’ll all be the better for it.