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  • Writer's pictureJim Donaher

Be Nice

'Be Nice, you never know what someone else is going through.'

This is not true, of course.

Well, not all of it. You should be nice. It's do. Ya know?

But don't you sometimes know what the other person is going through? Aren't some people more vocal about their trials than others? Aren't some hearts perpetually on sleeves?

I used to work with a great lady, who was super-conscientious and very good at her job. Every once in a while she would need to call in sick, and she would leave me a voicemail message.

In these messages, she would share gory details about all-night sessions in the bathroom, including graphic descriptions of various emissions and the sounds that reverberated around her dwelling as the heaving and groaning continued through the night, scaring the cats to death and causing the dogs to howl.

As she was clearly near death, a day to recover was needed. She would be back the following day.

I didn't know whether she was insecure about being believed, and therefore offered evidence, or whether she was proud of her suffering and wished to brag.

Over time, I learned that she had worked in doctor's offices where it was apparently de rigueur to share symptoms, so that the actual and wannabe clinicians could weigh in on the legitimacy of the ailment and what the sufferer should do in the area of self-care.

I believe that culture to be ridiculous. I came up in a culture that says:

  • I don't need (want) to know your symptoms.

  • You are an adult.

  • If you are sick, stay home.

  • You're an adult!

  • If it gets to be a problem or if I think you're messing with me, I will let you know.


  • Further, you will win no awards for bravery for coming in sick and infecting the rest of us. Quite the opposite.

  • You're an adult?

Still, my former colleague persisted. When I told her to stop, first casually and then more pointedly, she responded as though I was being a 'baby,' and told me that men should not be 'squeamish.'

Aren't you glad I didn't choose a really gross image?
Aren't you glad I didn't choose a really gross image?

Finally, I wrote a department policy about sick calls. I did this to try to make a serious point through levity. I told them I would not think less of them if they simply groan that you are sick and you will not be coming in today.

In order to cement this unofficial, official policy in the psyche of all involved, I created a Powerpoint slide presentation entitled, "Colors, Shapes, and Textures." In it, I described the kinds of things I did not wish to know, nor should any manager wish to know.

All of those things fell into one of these three self-explanatory categories. "I don't need to know what is coming out of any part of you. I don't need its color, shape or texture. I don't need any of it. We are all adults here."

I always added that last part, about being adults, as a crowd-pleaser, a means of offering an olive branch and lock elbows and sing 'Kumbayah.' One for all, all for one, and so on.

Lastly, and in honor of my colleague, dear friend, (and loyal reader of this blog) I added the penalty sequence:

  • First Offense - me saying, "Glad you are feeling better, please don't leave me a message like that again."

  • Second Offense - me, saving and playing your message in a staff meeting with all teammates present.

  • Third Offense - me, saving and sharing the recording with a hand-picked group of pranksters who could be relied on to resurrect and share the message in the future, to maximum comedic value. This is equivalent to what we now call 'viral' in its distribution.

Despite some exceptions, in real life, we rarely know the full extent of what people are going through.

Some people are so good at compartmentalizing their lives that no one at home knows anything about their daily work experiences and no one at work even knows they have a home.

Thoreau described this in his famous quote, "The mass of men live lives of quiet desperation..."

I have worked with people like that. And the only reason I know is because, over a period of time, they decided to tell me, in bits and pieces or all at once, the details of their troubles. I was always honored at this show of trust and I felt it was incumbent on me to be as supportive as possible.

At times, my supportiveness caused more work to fall on me or someone else, temporarily. Sometimes that person or team would complain. 'It's not fair.' And I would listen and commiserate and assure them that the situation would be resolved.

Sometimes it was resolved, sometimes it wasn't. The work got done, but probably not as equitably as everyone felt it should.

The benefit of longevity in a position like mine was that over time, a lot of the staff had issues that needed accommodation. And even while keeping my mouth shut about it, they began to recognize the accommodations as being similar to ones I had granted to them. And the complaints stopped.

Too often, we are quick to judge, quick to assume, quick to complain. Whether at work, at church, in traffic, or with our families, the impulse to blame and be aggrieved is strong.

I was driving yesterday, a beautiful, unseasonably warm day. A woman was waiting to cross the street and I stopped to let her walk across. She was on her phone and sauntered across the street as though she was in her living room. No hurry whatsoever.

My brain went very quickly into judgment mode. She was lazy, inconsiderate, unappreciative of my kind gesture to let her cross the street. She was spoiled, entitled, clueless.

Really, very harsh.

The fact that I didn't honk my horn or yell or speed away quickly to convey my irritation shouldn't get me any awards. I never do that, even when I'm furious. No, instead, I just stewed, not for long, but not for zero either.

For all I know she could have been talking to a doctor or a lawyer or a creditor.

For all I know her home is in foreclosure.

For all I know she has lost her job or her car (she was walking after all) or her home or her family.

For all I know, she was homeless. Or substance addicted.

The point is, I didn't know. She might also have been the heiress to the Bird Shingle fortune, able to buy everything I own with the change lost in her couch. Probably not, but for all I know...

All I know is nothing. I didn't know her or her situation or her family or her profession or her friends or her enemies or her status in any way, shape or form. NO idea what she was going through.

We (maybe you, but at least I) have to get out of this reflexive need to blame and vilify. Even if we do it silently in our heads, it's still corrosive. Even if we don't make a snarky comment or tell the story later to our friends, it's still unmerciful.

Grace and Mercy are often equated, but there is a distinction when we are talking about Christianity. Grace refers to the unmerited favor we, as humans, have been given by God. It is shown through blessings and through our salvation in the sacrifice of Jesus Christ. We can't (and certainly didn't) earn it, we don't deserve it, but we have it. God's grace is the most precious gift we can have.

Mercy is related but is slightly different. Mercy is the compassion and forgiveness received from someone who is in a position to punish. Mercy is one of the blessings afforded to us by God's grace.

The apostle Paul, in his letters to the churches he planted, spoke of the need for mercy and forgiveness toward one's fellow believers. The last piece of each of these verses is the 'clincher':

Since God has forgiven each of us, it's incumbent on us to be forgiving - that is, to be merciful - to others.

We are called to become more like Jesus, we do our best to follow His teaching and that of his Apostles, to try to do as He would in all circumstances. Mercy was never far from the top of Jesus' list of blessings. We should make it one of ours as well.

God bless you.

Thank you for reading. If this message resonates with you or it made you think of specific people in your life, please feel free to share.

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I hope you have a wonderful day!



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