The Civility Movement: It’s Nice to be Nice to the Nice

It's Nice to be Nice to the Nice logo
By Lisa Sugarman

As far as I know, no one’s ever called me pretentious or pompous or shallow or conceited (at least not to my face). But what I’m now ready to publicly admit is that I am a snob. And I know it—only not in the way you might think. And I’m not going to hide it anymore.
But I’m also very unique in my snobbiness.

That’s because I’m a new breed of snob. So new, in fact, that you’re hearing the term right here for the very first time.
I’m a courtesy snob. And damn proud of it.

I’m old fashioned; I believe that a hello begets a hello back. Wave, nod, wink, flinch, blow me a kiss, I don’t care. Just acknowledge me when I reach out to you — for no other reason than it’s the right thing to do.

Would you go to someone’s house for dinner without bringing a bottle of wine or some molasses cookies? God, I hope not. Then how are there so many people who can completely ignore a wave, a held-open door or a simple hello? I just don’t get it.

Maybe it just seems so obvious around here because there are 20,249 of us jammed into 4.5 square miles on this tiny, little peninsula. But I know that the more I see it the more deeply it roots me in my snobbiness.

I’m a simple girl. I believe in easy, straightforward ideas, like: do unto others, practice what you preach, never bite the hand that feeds you. And, it’s nice to be nice to the nice. I say it constantly. It’s probably the most-heard idiom in my house. Just ask my kids. (I admit, I’m a little bit of an idioms queen, and I hear myself saying that one an awful lot lately.)

So simple, this idea of civility. So why is it such a struggle for so many people?

This acknowledgement of niceties seems like it should be a pretty straightforward thing. I just don’t get why more people aren’t wired for it.
I don’t think I’m wrong or unfair to always expect a thank-you wave or some kind of general acknowledgement of basic social courtesies. Someone lets you cross the street, you wave. Someone lets you merge into traffic, smile. Someone holds the door for you at Shubie’s, say thanks. Someone waves to you when they run by you on the causeway, you should wave back (or at least nod; running takes a lot of energy, so I’m willing to compromise on this one).

Simple gesticulation, that’s all it is. It should be jack hammered into our DNA from birth, and yet too many people can’t seem to do it. I’m just saying that if someone makes the effort, make the effort back. Simple acknowledgement goes a long way, not to mention the fact that it’s just plain courteous.

And what cracks me up the most is that reciprocity, in any form, just makes you feel good. It’s like the whole it’s-better-to-give-than-to-receive thing. So what the heck?

I’m not saying people should be expected to be in a good mood, waving and whistling out their Volvo windows 24/7. Plus, we don’t have eyes in back of our heads, so it’s expected that we’re going to miss some stuff. But considering how much isn’t working in the world (hunger, poverty, homelessness, war), wouldn’t it be nice to at least be nice to each other while everything around us goes to hell?

So let’s try a little social experiment. Let’s make Marblehead birthplace of the It’s-Nice-to-be-Nice-to-the-Nice Movement. There’s no overhead, no storefront, no marketing cost. It’s cheap and easy. In fact, I’ll even throw in a personal guarantee that if you’re nice to someone they’ll be nice back. I guaaaaaraaaaannnteee it. Think of it this way: It can’t hurt, it doesn’t cost, and it’ll probably add years to your life because you’ll be so giddy all the time from everyone being so nice.

So when this takes off and really puts Marblehead on the map (way more than that whole birthplace-of-the-American-Navy thing), remember where you heard the idea first, OK? Then you can give me a big, fat thank-you wave.

Lisa Sugarman lives in Marblehead, Massachusetts. Read and discuss all her columns at OR read her blog at


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