Niceness is 'contagious'

All across the US, people are suddenly being nicer to one another: smiling and saying "Hi" as they pass in the street, doing good deeds, genuinely caring.

You wouldn't think this would be "news." Surely it ought to be the norm - but it hasn't necessarily been.

There seems to be a "code of conduct" in big cities - never make eye contact when on the street or public transportation, never talk to strangers, and stay out of other people's way.

It wasn't easy for me to conform to this "code" when I moved to Boston. I tend to smile a lot - even at strangers on the street. It took one of those strangers to show me how mistaken I was in conforming to some unwritten rules that turned my sense of friendliness into indifference.

On my walk to work, each morning I passed a neighborhood market. A man with the biggest smile I'd ever seen was putting the trash out and straightening up. He smiled at all of us who came into his vicinity - a genuine, caring smile - and boomed, "Good morning. How are you?"

His neighborliness was contagious. Not only did I find myself smiling back at the man, I found that the grin remained plastered to my face for several blocks afterward. I got several startled looks, but others began smiling, too.

The world seemed a brighter - dare I say nicer? - place, thanks to the man who wasn't afraid to express joy toward everyone with whom he came in contact.

Will the current outpouring of niceness - kindness and consideration for others - fade away as the memories of Sept. 11 are less immediate? I hope not. It seems the ideal antidote to hate.

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