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Carleton Nice

September 29, 2013 at 3:16 pm

At a pizza party that my New Student Week group won last week, President Poskanzer says that the ‘Carleton nice’ phenomenon was the biggest happy surprise when he started working here. He’d heard it from everyone throughout his application/interview process for his job, but really, how can you believe that this one college in the middle of nowhere has nicer people than all the other ones just because the people selling it to you tell you it does?

It’s so unlikely, but it’s true. I wonder about it--question it, even--all the time.

One of the students in my New Student Week group had a wonderful story from the time she had prospied in April of her junior year, paraphrased below:

My mom and I were coming out of Sayles and we crashed into a guy who dropped all his stuff on the ground. It was totally our fault, but he was so nice about it. He noticed that we looked lost and, guessing that I was a prospie (prospective student), he gave me a piece of paper with his name and email and told me to email him if I had any questions. I emailed him a few times. Then I finally got here and discovered that the guy I’d run into at Sayles was the CSA (Carleton Student Association) president!

Is it because we have some mutual understanding of how hard it is sometimes to get through a day without wanting to bite someone’s head off? Have we internalized the ‘be kind, for everyone is fighting a hard battle’ quote? How are we going to function in the real world where people might actually say what they think about us?

I’ve heard some people say they learned how to be nice to people here. Some people are already nice when they get here and others learn kindness because it's offered to them here. I used to avoid it--I always tried to be pleasant, but I never went out of my way to be friendly because it felt fake. I’ve heard people questioning the concept of niceness because ‘aren’t nice people just convenient for you to be around?’.

You can’t really be friendly with people if you’re afraid of them, either, which I think I was for a long time. Where I come from, unkind words were the norm, but there are far fewer sharp edges here. I had people tell me to ‘be more Carleton’. I never questioned how judgmental I was until I got here, either, when I was thankful that people didn’t judge me (at least not outwardly) when I needed them not to.

I don’t think it’s all bad anymore to put on a front sometimes. It takes admirable self-control to be nice to people when you’re busy and stressed. I realized here that if everyone spoke their mind all the time, we’d probably all be a lot less happy.

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