Sure, toddlers are shockingly violent and vocal for their size (just imagine adults carrying on the way three-year-olds are wont to do), but that’s just a communicative plea, rather than an inherently mean streak. Adults can be inherently mean; or more often, simply disinterested and exhausted. Note, both of these characteristics wipe smiles from faces, and push people a little closer to the “not nice” side of the spectrum.
Two experiences bring me to this reflection on age and niceness.
The first was listening to someone describe a particular teenager as universally liked and respected. The evidence given to support this rather sweeping statement? The youth was always positive. Go figure, people like positive people, even when they’re 14.
The second experience spanned four hours of air space between Houston, Texas and Calgary, Alberta. It began with a small and freckled redhead in the middle seat, and a slightly muddy under the nails, flip flop wearing, down to earth looking girl in the window seat.
“Hi,” says red.
“Hi back,” replies the window seat girl.
“How old are you?” asks red, in his most endearing five-year-old opener.
Left on my own, I think I would have plugged myself in to an insulating device, and occupied my own private air space in straight-faced silence without bothering to find out anything at all about my fascinating seat companion.
She’s a biologist, as it turns out through my eavesdropping. Just back from six months in Brazil classifying animals like ocelots and giant rodents. Soccer scholarship to university in the States. Looking to do a master’s. Ran out of shoes, and was hoping someone had brought her some boots and a jacket when picking her up from the airport.
So, seats 25E and 25F became friends. How? By pulling out the earbuds, making eye contact, and bothering to try. Asking and listening. She showed pictures from a South American rainforest, and he showed videos of doing ski tricks in the backyard. They crossed paths, and as unlikely as it was, they chose to hop on the same road for a little while, and enjoy the journey together before heading back to their own route.
When the two of them parted ways, they promised to try and recognize each other if they crossed paths again.
Little episodes like this are those wee droplets of experience that fill up our buckets, and frame our personalities.
So, lessons learned from the little people. Take the time to smile, and take the time to get out of our own thoughts and share experiences. It’ll make us more interesting, and hopefully nice, like those kids.