Picture yourself across the table from a good friend. Between you are seven marbles. Now these marbles are extremely valuable, better than diamonds. They cannot be cut into halves, each one must remain whole. For the sake of argument, you and your friend have the exact same financial status. You each stand to gain equally from these marbles. But there are seven marbles and two of you. You flip a coin. You win. And you get to pick as many marbles as you wish, any number from zero to seven. How many do you take?
We can find the seeds of an answer in an unlikely place— from Roseanne Barr, and something she said in a recent podcast interview (WTF With Marc Maron, Episode 729, August 1, 2016). Yes that Roseanne, the comedienne who became famous for saying, “I’m not a housewife. I am a “domestic goddess.” This same Roseanne Barr who was once booed by thousands of people for butchering the Star Spangled Banner before a baseball game. Yes the Roseanne Barr who starred in and produced one of the most popular and controversial television shows in history. Yes the Roseanne Barr whose volatile relationships with family and staff were tabloid fodder for many years. So if you didn’t already know it, Roseanne Barr happens to Jewish. And in a recent interview with Marc Maron, she tells a fascinating story about a visit to her rabbi.
She was thinking about repentance. And she said she wanted to give back to the community as her Teshuvah. She was detailing her plans for starting a charitable foundation, when the rabbi stopped her. Can you imagine the chutzpah? To cut off Roseanne? When she stopped talking, The Rabbi said, “That’s all well and good,” And he got very quiet. “Maybe you should learn to be nice?”
“Learn to be nice”. What a phrase! We should just put it on a bumper sticker. We should put it on the ballot. “Learn To Be Nice 2016.” The running mate could be “Co-Exist.” “Learn to be nice” should be a required class for graduating high school. It should be recited by school children every single day after the the Pledge of Allegiance. “Liberty and Justice for all, and learn to be nice!” It should be embedded into subliminal advertising, posted on every billboard, pumped through the airwaves of every radio station, written on the hills of every city in letter larger than the Hollywood sign so that no man, woman, or child can miss these important words.
“Learn to be nice!”
Learning implies change. According to Nice Guys Strategies, a consulting firm out of Boston, a common misunderstanding of “nice” is the greatest impediment to achieving it (Nice Guys Can Get the Corner Office: Eight Strategies For Winning In Business Without Being a Jerk, Russ Edelman, Thomas Hiltabiddle, and Charles Manz). They suggest being does does not mean you have to give in at all costs, or complete self-denial. When we perceive it in such a way, we actually avoid doing the nice thing for fear of being considered a pushover. So Nice Guys Strategies try to reframe the perception. They promote a model of niceness as seeking mutual interest. One does not have to neglect their own needs. Nor do they have to avoid confrontation. Being nice actually includes honest, authentic attempts to address disagreements. When we embrace the challenge, it becomes a nice opportunity to find an innovative solution for everyone.
So, now about those marbles. Between you and a friend there sit seven very valuable marbles. You get first dibs to take as many as you want. If your answer is 7. The Talmud has something to say about that (Mishnah Avot, 5:13)— “One who says what’s mine is mine and what’s yours is mine is wicked,” so heaven help you during the days of Awe. Meanwhile, if your answer is zero marbles— well, heaven help you in life. The Talmud does call that person pious. But such piety is too extreme for the common man. Interestingly enough, the Talmud is not a big fan of the even split, defining one who makes that split as having “average character.” It even compares this person to the citizens of Sodom who failed to go the extra yard in helping their visitors.
Fortunately for us, splitting the marbles evenly is not an option.
You have every right, and every opportunity to take 4, 5, or even 6 marbles here. But that is not the nice thing to do. According to Russ Edelman and Tim Hiltabiddle, the founders of Nice Guys Strategies, the best answer is three. Taking three out of the seven demonstrates what they call “effective niceness.” You are not a pushover. And by allowing the friend to have the other four, you show your willingness to build a longterm relationship which may pay later dividends in tangible or even intangible ways.
Joe O’Donnell, CEO of a large food distributor, practices the fourth marble philosophy. He talks about a particular contract with a ski resort where, one season, he ended up with a disproportionate share of the profits. He voluntarily divided his extra earnings and shared the them with the resort. He estimates that transaction to have been in the hundreds of thousands of dollars. But credits this penchant for fairness for guaranteeing their future business, and it earned him an iron clad reputation for integrity. As a result, many more clients would follow. It literally paid to be a nice guy (sections 3447-3467 in the Kindle Format e-book of Nice Guys Can Get the Corner Office).
The fourth marble philosophy is not always about money. It is about a general attitude that prevails when we place feelings of others as high, if not higher than our own. Learning to be nice is about making hard choices, often against our instincts, and sometimes granting others just a little more happiness than ourselves. The fourth marble could mean being angry, even justifiably, but stifling your instinct to spout an insult. The fourth marble could be picking up trash in a public space, even if it’s not your job. The fourth marble could be covering a holiday shift at work so that someone else might enjoy the day. The fourth marble can be any choice we make that allows us to maintain our own integrity and simultaneously raises up our fellow man.
This brings us to a remarkable woman named Dina Creiger (http://bostonspiritmagazine.com/2015/01/dina-creiger-encourages-choosing-nice-ness/).
Living in the Boston area, she followed with dismay the Marathon Bombing and the events that followed. Like people in Boston and across America, fear and anger welled up inside her. She knew those feelings lead to bullying and violence. And so Dina Creiger made a decision— she would not allow those bad feelings to rule her life. Despite her overwhelming fear and anger, she would choose to be nice.
She turned those words into a social movement. They eventually became her life’s calling. With the support of her life partner and her son, Creiger left behind a 30 year career in marketing and devoted her life to helping others “Choose to be nice.” She goes to schools, sponsors clubs, has a website, with the singular focus of spreading her simple message. As social creatures, our days are filled with chances to react to events all around us. If we choose to be nice, not only do we have positively impact our environment, but we also gain benefits for ourselves.
Studies demonstrate the overall benefits of choosing to be nice. Like when you are driving down Interstate 80, going 78 miles an hour, not so fast that you are likely to get a ticket, but just fast enough to feel like Rebel Without a Cause. Another car is trying to merge. You could speed up, or you can choose to let them in. The studies say letting them in is not only better for the overall flow of traffic, but it reduces your own stress and improves your day. A pretty good endorsement for nice. (https://www.randomactsofkindness.org/kindness-ideas/1095-let-them-merge, Eight Steps To Happiness, Dr. Anthony M. Grand and Allison Leigh, pp 76-77)
Therefore Dina Creiger developed a niceness pledge, and her goal is to have a million people sign on to it by the year 2020. It’s quite simple.
“I promise to help spread kindness wherever and whenever possible. And to the very best of my ability, I’ll be nice to those with whom I come into contact on a daily basis.”
You can find it at choosetobenice.com. It’s a perfect way to start the new year.
I have already signed it, and I encourage all of us to do the same. Of course the pledge is not worth the paper it is written on, and we will all have moments when we forget, but its value comes when we keep it to the best of our ability. We can show the best of ourselves, giving out as many fourth marbles as possible, and in turn we can inspire the best from others as well.
Like the Choose to Be Nice Club at a Boston School (http://choosetobenice.com/guest-blog-valerie/) who hand delivered plants to the 100 households in the school’s neighborhood, thanking them for their patience with the noise and traffic that surround a school. One woman in particular was deeply moved. She was a retired school librarian who was caring for her grown son. Both had felt detached and lonely, but soon developed a relationship with the school as volunteers. By choosing to be nice, the school children made new friends and brightened many lives.
We can do the same. That’s what these High Holidays are all about. It’s about seeing every encounter through the fourth lens philosophy. Sometimes we’ll be the giver, and other times the recipient. But if we look across the table and consider our choices, our challenge is to make the nice choice. Let us make this part of our atonement in the coming days. Let us remember the times when we were angry, bitter, or selfish. And then let us pledge ourselves to resist those temptations, and it will be especially important in this election year, that we choose the better way, that we choose to be nice.