How do nice people do it?
November 14, 2007 6:58 PM   Subscribe

I've always admired people who are just genuinely nice, warm folks and inspire everyone they talk to. I'd like to be one of those people when I grow up, but I don't know how to do it. Sometimes, when I do or say nice things, people get freaked out and think that I'm hitting on them, want something from them or am being insincere. That isn't the case, but every time it happens, I get a little more timid about doing nice things for people. It's easy to get by with a prickly Dorothy Parker routine, but that's not how I want to live my life. And I'm sick of not doing or saying nice things just because I'm not socially adept enough to pull it off. Being an asshole is easy, and no one ever questions your motives. How can I, as an introvert, act upon my nice impulses without freaking people out? What's the secret to being a mensch?
posted by freshwater_pr0n to Human Relations (28 answers total) 75 users marked this as a favorite
You should read this comment from Pastabagel in the Mr. Rogers thread.

The upshot: the trick isn't to act upon your impulses without freaking people out; it's to stop worrying about the reactions you get.
posted by danb at 7:04 PM on November 14, 2007 [3 favorites]

IMHO: Say nice things only once a week and don't repeat yourself. This doesn't mean pick one person and mention one thing in any given week, it means don't compliment any one person twice in any given week.

...just a guess, but you're probably laying it on a bit thick, so toning it down may help.

You may also want to stop doing nice things for people for a while, and use the hiatus to carefully observe how other people behave "nicely". Note their preexisting relationship, if any. Then, after about a month or so, modify your behavior accordingly.

One thing to keep in mind is that doing nice things is often used as a relationship yardstick, so if you're "jumping ahead" (eg: buying someone something rather than holding the door open for them) it's interpreted as a creepy attempt to accelerate the development of your relationship.

There's a progression that corresponds to the stage of the relationship -- I can buy flowers for a female friend without her thinking I'm coming on to her (because our friendship is well-advanced), but if I buy those same flowers for a recent acquaintance, I guarantee she'll think I've got romantic intentions (because our relationship is brand-new and flowers are from further along in the sequence of niceties, I'm seen as trying to take things "to the next level," as it were).

YMMV, of course.
posted by aramaic at 7:14 PM on November 14, 2007 [1 favorite]

Nah, the trick is to be consistent. If you always say nice things to everybody, with no exceptions, then people will see you as a genuinely nice person.
posted by kisch mokusch at 7:15 PM on November 14, 2007

yeah, i agree with aramaic. it's not the big gestures, it's the little ones that accumulate and create a "culture" of niceness. be the one to pass the salt without asking, or offer to let someone hang their coat on your barstool, or letting someone merge in front of you. making a habit of kind action makes bigger gestures seem more organic and grounded in your personality.

i don't know what is making you think that folks are weirded out by your niceness, btw, but assuming they've said something, it's because it's perceived to be out of character. you need to develop that character first.
posted by thinkingwoman at 7:27 PM on November 14, 2007 [1 favorite]

I kind of have this problem. It's been going on since at least college; I'd feed some nice boy a snack or two, next thing you know, he thinks I like him. I mean *like* like him.

And the other day - I was in a cafe, hoping to have a working meeting in a specific spot. A nice gentleman was kind enough to move to another table when I mentioned it (he was a little disgruntled, but still did it). I bought him a pastry and just handed it to him. He was delighted. Case closed.... or so I thought.

But then, about an hour later, he stopped by my table as he was leaving to say thank you, just a little warmer than felt comfortable to me. Also I was embarrassed with my business companion sitting right there; I remembered thinking that I needed to stop handing out food to strange men.

But you know what? I just realized that maybe *he* was just being nice, and not flirting with me at all. Or maybe he was saying thanks just in case. There was a time when I assumed that people were just nice and I didn't read anything into it. I miss that time.

I guess my only advice is to echo danb - do what you want to do, be prepared for people to take it however they take it.

If there's some kind of accompanying phrase or gesture that can de-romantify niceness, though, I'd love to hear it.

The only surefire way I know of is to be really old. Rightly or wrongly, the elderly are seldom regarded as flirty -- or at least not dangerously flirty -- by the young.
posted by amtho at 7:32 PM on November 14, 2007 [6 favorites]

The way to do this is by actually being nice, rather than trying to seem nice. Don't do nice things for people, be a nice person.
It's more of an internal attitude thing than about what you do.
posted by signal at 7:48 PM on November 14, 2007

Sometimes, when I do or say nice things, people get freaked out and think that I'm hitting on them, want something from them or am being insincere.

Its the price of doing business and everybody pays it. Don't take it personally, so don't worry about backing down. There's no reason at all to stop being a decent person just because some people take it wrong. You can't stop that from happening. Just like some people get the wrong message when people actually hurt them and they stay around.
posted by Ironmouth at 8:02 PM on November 14, 2007

I have some suggestions on things to possibly avoid:

- Indiscriminate niceness. I won't believe that you really like my shoes if I think you're just saying it in order to compliment something.

- Too many compliments. After a while, I start to feel as though the complimenter must think I'm really insecure and in need of boosting! Let's just converse.

- Spending too much money on me. If someone gets me nice bath products, I know that they like bath products, so I can get them some too on the next gift occasion. So if you give me an XBox, I get scared.

- Thanking me too much. Like you, I'm nice (at times) because I am genuinely moved to be so. Too many thanks makes me feel as though my gesture makes you feel guilty, and that our relationship is unequal. Thank me once, and if I say, "No problem, I wanted to!", you can believe it.

Personally, I think the highest of people who ask good questions, listen well, contribute meaningfully to the conversation, and then remember what we talked about. To me, those traits convey the most warmth.
posted by xo at 8:11 PM on November 14, 2007 [4 favorites]

Response by poster: Signal kind of has it, and made a valuable comment, but it's exactly backwards. I don't try to "seem" nice, and I don't think that I could. But they bring up something I didn't mention in my original question.

One of the things my best friends love about me is that I am generous with my time, my resources, the stuff I know and anything else I'm holding. I want to be strong enough to show that side of me more often.

I don't want to only say one nice thing every week. I never, ever say or do anything I don't mean. I don't think that anyone would ever think that I'm a brown-noser.

I am, or at least was, horribly, horribly shy, and I deal with that by making people laugh. I don't do inappropriate things like buying expensive flowers or writing songs about people. I just try to do good things rather than bad. I don't think that it's my kindness that's a problem, and I don't think that being less of a mensch will get me where I want to be.

People who are able to make other people feel good about themselves have something special going on, and I want to learn that secret.
posted by freshwater_pr0n at 8:42 PM on November 14, 2007 [2 favorites]

It may be that, in your earnestness to be nice, people are seeing a forced effort. And most people distrust forced efforts.

It may be that you're being uniformly nice to people regardless of how well you know them. Being as ncie and open with someone you have known a long time as you are with a new acuaintance may yield different results.

Or it may be that people simply aren't used to "nice". I'm not sure how old you are, but I think that certain age groups tend to view cynicism, or jadednes, as being cool and hip. So hoest niceness may catch othem off-guard.

In the end, I have to agree with danb. You have to act the way you are naturally compelled to act - no pretenses, or masking your personality in order to please (or avoid displeasing) people.
posted by DrGirlfriend at 9:12 PM on November 14, 2007 [1 favorite]

communication is always a complicated part of human relationships. SOmetimes you just want a simple interaction which you think will be easy, and they have a much more complex drama already flowing in their head. You do some minor thing for them, and they interpret it within a schema they are already hoping is true - a girl gives a boy a cupcake and he thinks, i never noticed before, but she's pretty cute, and i don't really enjoy being single, and she did give me a frosted dessert...

It doesn't mean they're always going to take any gift of pastry as evidence of romantic possibility, but it's opening up an exchange. If you say "hi" to someone, you can't really get annoyed that they respond by trying to engage you in a further conversation. Maybe you thought it was clear enough you just wanted to exchange passing "hi"'s, but a conversation is two-sided, and you have to be ready for their side to be different from the script you imagine. If they're making assumptions you are uncomfortable with, try to clarify things. If you just don't want to get into further interactions, let them know you don't have the time or whatever. But be ready for any reaction at all to what you perceive as "nice". People will read it in innumerable ways - as boring, as creepy, as pretentious, as self-righteous, as self-serving, as stupid, as annoying - but also as genuine, cool, open, sincere, earnest, sweet, kind, generous and, yes, nice.

You have to act the way you want to act because it's you, not to match an idealized notion of goodness. Try to just become the kind of person who likes to do nice things sometimes no matter what others think. And try not to take it too seriously - I think a light heart is an important part of not being a complicated nice-but- passively- guilt-trippy or nice-but-overly-needy type.
posted by mdn at 10:05 PM on November 14, 2007 [2 favorites]

Are you trying to accomplish genuinely being a "nice person," or are you just trying to give the impression to people that you are nice on the outside?

This is a bit of an off-the-wall approach to this question... When I used to work in a hotel, I got to meet and talk to people from all over the country and the world. Being from the South, many people would point out the whole "Southern hospitality" thing... I think that's kind of a perceived niceness that people have. When I go back and try to pinpoint what that perception comes from, I look at the attitudes and behaviors I have when dealing with these people, and it generally goes back to an overall air of good manners. Please and thank you, saying "sir" and "ma'am," thanking people as genuinely as possible, smiling, wishing people a nice day or picking up on little things they mention in their speech and wishing them luck in those endeavors, etc.

I believe there's a definite correlation here. The question is, did the good manners come from the fact that I'm just a genuinely nice person or did people see me as a nice person because of the manners? Did I treat these people this way just because they were customers? I like to think that I'm a "nice" person, but that's subjective. What makes me "nice" in my eyes is compassion, mostly.

Now we're back at the first question again, but I'll ask it in a different way: Do you want to be nice so you can feel better about yourself or do you want to be nice so others can feel better about you? If you really want to be nice for yourself, think of the kind of things that someone would do for you that would make you get that warm, fuzzy feeling inside. Little things like offering to take someone's plate to the sink at dinner or opening a door for someone.

On the other hand, if you want to be nice as a front for other people (this is not necessarily a bad thing, mind you), then it's best just to pick up on the kinds of things people respond to and persistently do those things. With my customers at the hotel, I learned the kinds of behaviors and speech the out-of-towners perceived as the classic Souther hospitality and I reinforced them in myself constantly, being almost ingratiatingly polite at times.

Basically this whole response is just a long-winded way of saying to figure out who you're doing this for and adjust your behaviors accordingly. Good luck!
posted by joshrholloway at 10:43 PM on November 14, 2007 [1 favorite]

Sincerity. Once you can fake that, you've got it made.

Continue practicing openness, honesty, and generosity. It's a practice, not a stance. And if you're shy then I recommend getting drunk and doing something stupid in public, especially while your friends are watching, and then once you live that down you'll never be shy again.

I give really bad advice, BTW.
posted by BitterOldPunk at 10:59 PM on November 14, 2007 [2 favorites]

You just have to own it. If people freak out, brush it off and relish the fact that you did something so unusual to them that they were shaken by it. But there does some a point where returns diminish. You can't be infinitely nice, you know, and you can be nice to the wrong people as well. Working hard to be nice, and good, and forgiving, to the people who appreciate you and love you is far more important than doing little unexpected niceties for strangers. Be sure you've got that in balance.
posted by Ambrosia Voyeur at 11:52 PM on November 14, 2007

Best answer: I think this is an ongoing life project, because so much of this seems to require being comfortable in your own skin. When I think about the people I've known who are impressive in the way you describe - "people who are able to make other people feel good about themselves" - they are the people who on the surface, smile a lot, say what they mean, and seem to do endless thoughtful-yet-appropriate things for others. But more importantly, and on a deeper level, I think, they are the people who have great listening skills, try to understand where people are coming from, question their own biases, don't take themselves too seriously, and are comfortable and confident enough in themselves to not judge or impose themselves on others. They know and accept themselves, don't try to be anyone else but themselves, and therefore are able to interact with people not needing or expecting anything in particular from them to make them feel comfortable. Their comfort in themselves frees them up, their focus on what's really important in life tunes them in, and the result, I think, is that they make others feel good because they can be positive, they try to see people for who they really are, and they let other people be themselves too.
posted by onoclea at 12:17 AM on November 15, 2007 [17 favorites]

I assume you are talking about being "nice" to people besides your close friends, such as coworkers, classmates, acquaintances, etc. I too am by nature an introvert; I don't go out a lot or try to make new friends or keep in touch with people outside a very close circle of old friends. However, despite this introversion, I can interact well with people I don't know, and people find me approachable. Why? I can only offer an educated guess:

I find being optimistic works for me, which is as simple as pointing out the bright side of any situation. I don't go around spouting sunshine, songbirds and rainbows, of course... I mostly stay quiet and don't initiate conversations. But when someone starts talking to me, I actively listen and offer up reassurance, inject positive humor, or a constructive suggestions (on request, never without the request). No goofy smiles or forced laughter, just my honest take on what could possibly be right with the situation. I think this is just how I am, so I have no idea if this takes practice. I only started realizing I do this because people started telling me that they appreciate it.

It's often easy to go with cynicism, sarcasm, or to be ironically witty in your day-to-day discourse. Hell, that's how most of us act on MeFi, myself included. And you may even get people to laugh with you. It's just that in the real world, where impressions are formed face-to-face, and relationships continue after the browser window is closed, I always try to keep things positive. I can be as cynical and snarky as I want on my own time, and I never feel bad about making someone else feel better. I'm gonna stop now before I start sounding like some kind of poster featuring a dangling cat.
posted by krippledkonscious at 12:39 AM on November 15, 2007 [2 favorites]

New Yorkers are masters of the "nice but not too nice" gesture. "Nice" gestures can easily come across as invasive or overly personal. How to come across as a decent person instead of a con-man, liar, creep, or neophyte:

--Do it, but don't prolong it, act like it's a big deal, or like you expect thanks or attention. Get it done and move on to the next task instead of basking in their gratitude and admiration (ick). The best example of this was when I was walking on a busy crosswalk towards Grand Central at lunchtime and fell flat on my face. My cellphone fell and broke into 5 pieces. I was picked up, asked if I was OK, and had all the pieces of my phone handed to me in about 5 seconds flat. Then everyone disappeared.

--If they say thank you just shrug your shoulders.Maybe mumble "sure, whatever". Make it clear that it's not a big deal to you. If it is, they'll know it is anyway, but this strategy takes a lot of social pressure of the recipient.

--Avoid eye contact. When I was much younger girl, bodega owners often mistook me for a homeless teenager and slipped me free shit while employing this particular tactic (and sometimes the "get the hell out of here" hand wave) to let me know they weren't hitting on me or being creepy. (amtho, this might work for you--just order the pastry and avoid eye contact in a rude way).

Hope this helps you, even though you're in Austin. If your friends already see you as a curmudgeon, overly cheery or solicitous behavior will make them look for the dagger behind your back.
posted by sondrialiac at 2:49 AM on November 15, 2007 [4 favorites]

Best answer: People who are able to make other people feel good about themselves have something special going on, and I want to learn that secret.

People who make other people feel special don't have something going on, besides a bunch of learned behaviors and a willingness to work at it.

If a person is special, it means they are an individual, someone who is not able to be replaced. Most people don't really behave as though their friends are individuals, but it's incredibly important.

They send out mass invitations, instead of taking the time to call or e-mail their friends individually (do you really need an evite to wrangle 5 people?). They remember birthdays, if they're on facebook, but not big tests or big dates or big performance reviews. They're usually around to celebrate something, if you invite them, but they're unwilling to acknowledge the tragedies of life, small or large, and tend to avoid you when you're down.

They don't remember which mutual friend you truly loathe because she cheated on you, and they invite you to the same small party with no warning. They forget that your sister is a lesbian and make homophobic comments. When you got mono and were out of touch for months, they didn't notice.

They never take the time to introduce you to other friends you might like to know, when they could easily say something like: "Hey, this is freshwater_pr0n, he's that guy I was telling you about. The one who's amazing with dogs. "

Don't be like these people.
posted by sondrialiac at 3:18 AM on November 15, 2007 [12 favorites]

Best answer: I have been lucky enough to know several people who are basically the person you're trying to be. They have this ability to be extroverted without being smarmy or attention-seeking, they are just genuinely interested in the people around them, without any Dale Carnegie-like hidden ambitions.

I don't think your problem is lack of genuineness. I think it just might be your introvertedness. Not that that there's anything wrong with being an introvert - there isn't. It's just that I think people respond to introverted people differently. We're less easy to read, so when we do something nice for a stranger it seems to come out of nowhere.

I don't know if there's a solution to this other than trying to train yourself to be more extroverted. Personally, I think it might be better just to accept that sometimes people aren't going to react the way you'd like and that's okay. It's not you, it's the world we live in where everyone else is suspicious of everyone else's motives. And even the more extroverted types get bad reactions once in a while.

I think yours is a very good ambition to have and I wish you luck.
posted by Jess the Mess at 4:58 AM on November 15, 2007

Sondrillac and.. sondrillac again.. have it, I think. I'm trying to think of further advice, but all I've got is "do what you do because you love doing it, not to seek approval or anything." I mean, some of that's kind of implicit in a "positive selfishness" kind of way -- of course you help to get warm fuzzies back, on some level -- but if you're doing what you do because it's important to you, that'll show in how you do it and you'll get positive reactions. I think. Or to put it another way: Dance like nobody's watching. Yeah, I know that's cheezy, but it works.
posted by Alterscape at 7:19 AM on November 15, 2007

Don't judge your success on other people's reactions. Doing so means you're not really doing something for them, you're instead setting up a transaction in which you get paid by their positive reaction. Just be as good and open and generous as you can (which includes setting boundaries so that you don't burn out), and don't get attached to the results of those actions.

Also, as others have pointed out, being truly nice and thoughtful requires listening to others and doing things to help them in particular. Holding the door open for someone struggling with packages or a stroller is thoughtful. Holding the door open for a businessman who's trying to impress a male business contact may backfire, because he could see you as undermining his authority. Giving up your seat on the bus to a pregnant woman, or a guy holding a baby, is thoughtful. Giving up your seat to a middle-aged woman who's upset about being thought of as "old" may not be considered very nice.

I guess what I'm saying is, do your best to see the effects of your actions on the particular situation at hand, choose how you want to help make the situation better (which, in some cases, is going to involve non-action), and then let it go. I think that comfort-in-self that people are talking about comes from people going through that analytic process a bit, of trying to gauge how to be the best they can be in this particular instance and then standing behind their actions.
posted by occhiblu at 7:38 AM on November 15, 2007 [1 favorite]

People who are able to make other people feel good about themselves have something special going on, and I want to learn that secret.

If you're nice to people because your goal is to make them feel good about themselves, then it's your goal that is a problem. It's kind of a superior attitude to assume that others have low self esteem, and egotistical for you to think that they need your help. Secondly, it makes you feel better about yourself when you do this, therefore I think your true (subconscious) goal is to help you feel better about yourself.

The people that I've known that make me feel good when I am with them, are people who genuinely like people. They are delighted to see you, and it is not forced nor faked. You feel like you are the most important person to them because you know that their love for you is sincere.

So, I think if you genuinely love people, your kindness will also be genuine. People will automatically feel good around you (but that shouldn't be the "why" of your goodness). To be a good and loving person should be your goal. Everything else will follow.
posted by mlarso at 10:13 AM on November 15, 2007

Best answer: About a year ago I finally realized that I am one of the people you talk about. Before I realized this, I did not know why people wanted to be around me and remembered me years after meeting me; consequently, I did not value myself because this is perhaps the only thing significant about me. I am quite introverted and unaccomplished.

I make other people feel loved and comfortable. I can get anything I want because people are very open to doing things for me (just as well that I want very little other than love). I've spent the last year reflecting on my experiences and thinking about what is going on in these interactions. I hope that some of what I've learned can be useful to you:

1. I smile at everyone I meet. All of the other "genuinely nice, warm, inspirational folks" that I have known are also smilers. But not necessarily big, over-the-top smiles. I'm not saying big smilers are insincere, but it does not make everyone comfortable. A slight smile will do if that's all you've got. The biggest thing is to smile even if you're not so happy. I don't smile because I'm happy, but because of how it makes the other person feel (which makes me happy). If they respond, I really do feel like smiling, at least a little.

2. Approach every interaction as the opportunity for an adventure. Navigating the social landscape is an adventure! There is much to learn and at the same time you have a lot of power. If you seek remembrance and if you seek to have an effect on the lives of others, you can be aggressive and take over and you will be remembered, sure. And maybe that is your path. But my path to remembrance is to find a way to be curious and look for something new in every interaction. Every one, including the clerk at the grocery store, the bus driver you only see for a minute, the little kid who bumped into you running down the street. And the chatty old lady, the weird but harmless homeless guy at the bus stop, and your mother. Every interaction is an opportunity for growth.

3. Speaking of growth, I don't mean just personal growth, although that's probably what you're going to have to focus on at first. One of the reasons some people find my personality attractive is my focus on their own growth and healing. This is not overt and pushy. I'm naturally good at understanding people and who they really are, but if you're not, then I'd suggest some books like "Gifts Differing" by Isabel Briggs Myers. What would heal, what would really matter to that person. Not what matters to you, but to them. And by extension, the world of humanity. I know that last is a little broad.

4. Compliments. Now what is the key to paying compliments that are sincere? There are a couple of things that I do. When I'm around someone who is outgoing and takes care in their appearance, I find something about their appearance that is perhaps unusual/makes them stand out from everyone else. Odds are, they really wanted people to notice that. The thing is, I can find something likeable about nearly everyone I meet. One woman I know who is very quiet and meek and somewhat invisible, has the most beautiful eyes. And when she speaks, her soft voice flows over the psyche like the smell of Sunday dinner when you walk in the door. I thought this about her, and I told her that. People know you mean it when you put thought into them.

5. More on that, because I think it's important. I really like people. Not always as individuals, I'm still working on that. But I like humanity. Okay, the idea of humanity. But how to make that high-minded ideal something more concrete? I try to see the humanity in everyone. And that requires seeing them for who they are, and reflecting love back at that secret person of the heart. That means seeing the weakness in the viscerally strong, and seeing the strength in the downtrodden weak. And accepting it. Listen. Listen. Listen.

6. I have no desire to change anyone anymore. Ridding myself of that burdensome desire has made me even more loved. I endeavor to let people know how grateful I am to know them, for whatever reason. Could be a simple transaction that has occured, or it could be estranged family members. I love, I am loved in turn. How do you love? What's to love? Those are questions you have to answer yourself.

I see I have not given much in the way of practical advice. I'm sorry about that, but I am not the most practical person. Oh, one more thing:

7. Raise your self-esteem. Now that will perhaps require doing something that makes you worthy of esteem. More likely, it requires seeing yourself for who you really are, and counting the things that are already worthy of esteem. Self-deprecation is still one of my biggest weaknesses, and it keeps me from being as embracing as I'd like to. In turn, I feel like I cheat people. I cheat people of myself, and my power to affirm. I see I've depracated myself a bit in this post but it's a hard habit to change. I feel like that stands in my way. Unfortunately, nice people do not often have high self-esteem. But they need to. They need to be comfortable. When you are comfortable, you do not have to be defensive. You can just be. This is not something you can get from other people.

Back to the advice, I can't give you much that is concrete, but it is my philosophy on love, life, humanity and the power and virtue of the individual that informs my behaviors.
posted by Danila at 2:49 PM on November 15, 2007 [30 favorites]

Much of being nice, I've found, is about living in the present: we've all met people who seem like they might be far off, who don't seem interested.

Step one for me is always reminding myself just to be in my mind exactly where I am in person. Staying with the person I'm talking to. You don't have to spend a lot of time thinking up questions to keep them talking: if you're really listening to what they have to say, the questions follow naturally.

Step two follows. When you're paying close attention to what's going on with the people around you, it's far simpler to do something simple and casual to help out. If you see someone carrying lots of packages, you can notice and hold the door for them. People start thinking you're nice when they see you doing kind things for other people without a chance of repayment. (And sometimes, like last month for me, you get lucky and score free tickets to a show because the woman with the packages is the producer.)

Step three is nerdy and maybe just something I try to do. I often have to remind myself about important dates and events for other people, so I'll write down something about when I should ask them about things. I have a terrible memory. It's also just about taking an extra little step - adding a sentence to an email about how you liked seeing them or sending a handwritten thank-you note instead of a text message. None of this has to be perfect.

I was trained as a child to believe that everyone is basically the same under all those trappings - just what Danila was saying about finding the humanity in everyone. Knowing that I'm certainly not the only one who ever has problems leads me to treat people with kid gloves. I have two little mantras on this topic that flip around once in a while: treat every person you meet as if it's their birthday, or treat everyone as though it might be the worst day of their life. You just never know.

I'd definitely agree with everything above about being comfortable and gentle with yourself. I have a strong tendency to overthink encounters and have to remind myself to get out of my head sometimes and quit worrying so much about me.

That's it, though, I've found. With people, be present, and be gentle.
posted by lauranesson at 8:46 PM on November 15, 2007 [3 favorites]

What's the secret to being a mensch?

technically, you already are. Mensch is (also) the german word for human being.

yeah, I know...
posted by krautland at 5:19 AM on November 16, 2007

Echoing a few other responses in brief...

1. Learn to love yourself. Taking some time off of your regular routine, surroundings and even surrounding people helps to put things in perspective. Overall, though, all you need is some serious introspection that leads to an honest dialog with yourself about what you want and what will make you happy.

2. Love others. This comes very naturally once #1 is accomplished. There are plenty of people that skip the first step and invest themselves wholly into this one -- it's a guaranteed way to end up miserable.

3. *Poof* You're a mensch (though you'll be too distracted by all the wonderful things around you to focus on your new state very much)
posted by VulcanMike at 3:14 PM on November 17, 2007 [1 favorite]

Read The Nice and the Good by Iris Murdoch for an interesting discussion on what it means to be good, as opposed to just nice. It's not easy is the verdict.
posted by Huw at 7:16 AM on November 19, 2007 [1 favorite]

Don't over-do it.


"Thank you! This is really helpful." = genuinely nice, warm person.


"Thank you! This is really helpful. I realize you have a busy schedule and I want you to know I appreciate the fact that you took time out of your day to do this for me. Have a blessed day." = Creepy.
posted by lisaici at 10:14 PM on November 20, 2007 [1 favorite]

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