• The Season of Goodwill

    “Nice” is an odd word – one of our most widely used adjectives but of imprecise, not to say amorphous, meaning and often pressed into service just to signify anything that is vaguely pleasing.

    So, when I say that, living as we do on the outskirts of Opotiki in the eastern Bay of Plenty, we are privileged to rub shoulders every day with “nice “ people, I had better spell out what I mean.

    When I say that the people we have dealings with are “nice”, I have in mind our neighbours who, following one of the winter’s most damaging cyclones, drove down our drive to check that we – their septuagenarian neighbours – were all right.

    I think of our neighbour who, realising that my wife was about to come home from hospital following surgery for breast cancer, and that, following a couple of accidents, our rainwater tanks were empty, rigged up a connection that enabled him to pump water from his own tank into ours.

    And then there are our friends who – on an almost daily basis – delivered to us freshly baked cakes and fish caught off our beach, filleted ready for eating, and others who brought us hot meals, at a time when neither my wife nor I was able to focus much on cooking or shopping.

    But even these acts of thoughtfulness and generosity do not quite capture the “niceness” I have in mind when I think of those with whom we interact on a daily basis.  I think of the local retailers and tradesmen, and the receptionists and check-out girls, and the unfailing good humour and courtesy with which we and they are able to conduct our transactions.  It is hard to overstate what a pleasure it is to do business with “nice people”.  The business has to be done, whether or not the people involved are “nice”, but how much easier and less stressful it is when one can count on the good faith and desire to please of those with whom it is done.

    I think I am now getting close to what I mean when I refer to “nice’ people.  I mean people with good hearts – people who take it for granted that we share the same life and that we ’re all in it together, and that things will go better for us all if we try to help each other.  I mean people with a generosity of spirit, who are ready to ease any situation with a smile or a cheery greeting or a kind word.

    These are people whose “niceness” comes naturally to them, without thought or design or ulterior motive.  They are the strangers one meets in the street or walking on the beach and who are happy to catch one’s eye and to say “Good morning” or “nice day”.  I know it is easy to idealise these behaviours and to read more into them than they merit.  But they are also simple expressions of a community spirit that enriches the lives of all of us.

    We know that New Zealand is a popular destination for overseas tourists, and that the scenic beauty and sense of space we can offer are among the major attractions.  But I also think that the natural friendliness and good manners of New Zealanders also play a part – and, judging by my own experience, they are more likely to be found in small rural communities than in the big cities where the pressures on time and space take their toll.

    The season of goodwill is of course the ideal time to pause and reflect on such matters.  Nothing encompasses the Christmas spirit better than the readiness to think and take account of, and give time to, others.  Christmas is after all the time for families – and families are like communities, in that we don’t choose our family members, any more than we choose those in our community – they just are.  And, as the time for New Year resolutions approaches, what better than to resolve that the season of goodwill should be extended well into 2018?  The lives of all of us would be immeasurably better – in all sorts of immeasurable ways.

    Bryan Gould

    24 December 2017