Being Nice is Not Enough

Not long ago I found myself in traffic, stuck behind an old man in a pickup truck. With only one lane open and road construction all around, there was no getting around this guy. And to make things worse, it turned out he was nice. Yes. Nice.

Over the course of about 2 miles, traveling at speeds of up to 5 miles an hour, this man actually stopped at each block to allow every vehicle wanting to merge, to merge. The thankful drivers would smile and wave at this nice old man as they filled up the lane in front of him. I told you he was nice.

[sociallocker id=”1846″] The only problem is the old man was oblivious to those of us behind him. It is one thing to let in a car or two. It is quite another to let in every car you see at the expense of those people behind you. And the people behind him were furious. Some were driving off onto the grass beside the road and trying to get around him. Others were laying on their horns and shaking their fists. Twice I heard drivers lock up their brakes in order to avoid collisions due to the kindness of this old man. Even yours truly was beginning to lose it.

Not once did I catch him checking his rear-view mirror to see how his behavior might be affecting others. And not once did he ever realize what havoc he was causing behind him. That’s when I realized this old man wasn’t an inconsiderate jerk. He was just a nice guy who didn’t have a clue.

While the traffic eventually cleared without incident and we all went on our merry ways, I haven’t been able to shake the image of this old man from my mind. Not because his behavior is so unusual, but because it isn’t.

As I look back, I realize I’ve seen this type of person many times in my life. I once worked with a guy who was the sweetest, nicest person you’d ever meet. But while he was busy being sweet and nice, he wasn’t busy doing his work. He left it for the rest of us to pick up the slack. Another friend of mine was so nice to people that he neglected his own wife and children. They eventually left him. Last I heard of him he still couldn’t understand why they left him. And he was still one of the nicest guys around.

Yes, I’ve seen this type of person many times. The nice, clueless person who means well but unwittingly causes more harm than good. The last time I saw this type of person, I saw him in the mirror.

You see, one of my goals lately has been to be a better person. I have, in fact, adopted this motto from my favorite television show, My Name is Earl, in which the title character starts out each show by saying, “I’m just trying to be a better person.”

I love the show. I love the motto. And I love the way my efforts to “be a better person” make me feel. However, as I look back over the last few months, I realize that in my efforts to be nice, I have inadvertently been neglectful in some of my other responsibilities. I have become the old man in the pickup truck. But unlike him, I now have a better sense of my impact on those around me and plan to adjust my behavior accordingly.

Yes, I still intend to be nice. But I’ve learned that being nice is not enough. We must also strive to be aware.

Originally published December 5, 2005