Major Frank Burns wasn’t exactly known for his kindness and generosity on the hit TV series, M*A*S*H. He wasn’t known to be particularly wise or insightful, either. When he said, “It’s nice to be nice to the nice,” he was being his usual bumbling and awkward self, not offering up thoughtful words on the best way to treat people. Nonetheless, we quote that phrase in our family all the time.
Now, don’t get me wrong, and let’s just get this out of the way: we should be kind to everyone all the time, even when they are being unkind towards us. The graciousness of forgiving someone for poor choices in the moment, being the bigger person and turning a bad situation towards a better end, that is all super important stuff when it comes to being a good citizen. But, shouldn’t we be especially nice to the people who are being nice to us?
Holiday tales are full of curmudgeonly characters. No matter how nice people are to the Grinch, Scrooge, Angry Shopper no. 1, or Grumpy Old Neighbor no. 2, they just can’t seem to embrace the holiday spirit of kindness. Of course, in the movies, they usually have some “heart-enlarging” epiphany that brings them around, but how often does that happen in real life?
In our recent PERC Radio Theatre production we tackled the holiday classic “It’s a Wonderful Life.” Mr. Henry Potter is the requisite greedy, grumpy miser of Bedford Falls who, in more realistic fashion, never comes around to the kind ways modeled by the Bailey clan and the rest of the town. I like to think that, in the end, Potter awakens to what is right and returns that $8,000 he kept after Uncle Billy absent-mindedly handed it to him in the newspaper. The story ends before we get to see how that turns out, but I kind of doubt he does, don’t you?
In the radio production, I had the honor of playing a disgruntled Bailey Building & Loan client intent on receiving her $242 in the classic bank run scene. Charlene (based on Tom in the film) refuses to accept anything less than her full $242, in spite of the knowledge that George and Mary are satisfying demands out of their personal honeymoon stash. The folks that follow her realize they shouldn’t be so greedy and acquiesce to settling for the minimum they need to get through the crisis. Wasn’t that the nice thing to do? And, wasn’t it nice of George and Mary to forfeit their honeymoon to settle the needs of the town?
Luckily, in the end you learn that Charlene is one of the many town folk who embrace the Christmas spirit, showing up with contributions to rescue George from sure prison. Thank goodness my character had her epiphany!
I know I don’t need to say this to any of you good people reading this, but let’s always try to do the nice thing. Of course, every day is the goal, but I would like to take a moment to specifically address the holiday season.
I have worked my share of waitress jobs, catering gigs and other service-related positions over the years. In recent conversations with friends, the stress of the holidays in the service industry has come up. I have happily forgotten the seasonal rush of requests; sometimes unreasonable, sometimes stressfully delivered, sometimes impatiently received. These chats with friends on the front lines have uncomfortably reminded me of the pit-of-the-stomach ache that such a time generated for me.
So, here is a friendly reminder that the folks who are nicely helping orchestrate your holiday magic deserve a little nice, in return. Embody the proverbial holiday epiphany and extend generosity and kindness to others. Healthy gratuities, cookies for the mailman, gifts for the teachers are all ways that we appreciate the folks who are nice enough to handle our needs. Let’s take a deep breath and practice being nice to the nice here at the holidays, so that it might become a habit for the rest of the year.
Be sure to tune in to The Ridge 95.7 or WLAQ 1410 (or listen online) on Christmas Eve at 7 p.m. to hear The PERC Radio Theatre production of “It's a Wonderful Life.”
Monica Sheppard is a freelance graphic designer, beekeeper, mother and community supporter living in Rome.