Being nice, for one California woman, started with being fed up. One day in 2005, Debbie Tenzer sat with several friends, bemoaning all of the bad news out there: global warming, dissatisfaction with the government, the war in Iraq and crime in Los Angeles, among other things.
“My longtime friends and I were arguing, practically name-calling,” Ms. Tenzer says. “But I left that lunch realizing two things: Something is wrong when friends can’t talk to each other and … we can’t solve the big problems, but we can do something.”
From there, a movement was born. Ms. Tenzer decided she would do one nice thing for someone each Monday, such as feeding a parking meter or taking a cup of coffee to the school crossing guard.
“The biggest problems were not the biggest problems,” Ms. Tenzer says. “The biggest problem was feeling powerless.”
She spread the word — both of her mission and that the actions were making her feel better — to 60 friends. Now there are “nice-a-holics” in 91 countries, and Ms. Tenzer’s Web site, www.doonenicething.com, gets 1 million hits a month. A book, “Do One Nice Thing: Little Things You Can Do to Make the World a Whole Lot Nicer,” was published this spring.
Ms. Tenzer, who has turned the niceness movement into a full-time job, says she is “a kindness detective.” Thousands of people send her ideas, and she looks for people who need help. She has drawn attention to such grass-roots movements as Kid Flicks, which sends used DVDs to children’s hospitals, and blankets.com, which sends blankets to children in Iraq.
Ms. Tenzer received an e-mail from Army Maj. Walter Woodring in December 2007. Maj. Woodring was requesting gifts and donations for schoolchildren in Afghanistan.
“These kids have absolutely nothing, and when we give them a notebook or pencil, it is the only school item they have,” Maj. Woodring wrote. Do One Nice Thing spread this request, and since then, groups nationwide have combined to ship more than 75 tons of school supplies to the Middle East.
The school-supply program is now run by Maj. Sean Gustafson, stationed in Iraq.
“This is a way we can show these folks that we don’t hate them, that we recognize we are all in this together, and that educated children are our only true hope for the future,” Maj. Gustafson recently wrote in an e-mail to Ms. Tenzer. “School is out here till the end of August, but we’re stockpiling all the school supplies till then, and we’re gonna make a lot of Iraqi school kids very happy.”
In fact, supporting soldiers has become a big part of what Do One Nice Thing does. Hundreds of visitors to the Web site write in just to say “thanks” to servicemen. Do onenicething.com also points visitors to www.lets saythanks.com, where people can leave messages of gratitude for soldiers, to www.anysoldier. com, where they can find out how to send gifts, or Operation Gratitude, www. opgratitude.com, which will ship new DVDs and CDs to soldiers overseas.
Ms. Tenzer says the best ways to do nice things don’t involve much time or money. Some of the best ways to be nice are small.
“We are all so incredibly busy,” Ms. Tenzer says. “Most of us don’t want to add one more thing to have to do. I actually think people want to help others. But they also want to know it has to be easy.”
Some small things that can have a big impact: Give a compliment when you get good service (“The managers hear so many complaints, they will be thrilled to hear something positive,” Ms. Tenzer says); leave a snack for your letter carrier; pay for the person behind you in line for coffee or at a toll booth.
Summer is a great time for kids to practice doing one nice thing, too, Ms. Tenzer says.
“Have them clean out their DVDs and movies and donate them to sick kids,” she says. “You can give them a bag and tell them to go through their closet and their toys. There are places who would be happy to receive items they are no longer using.
“The core message is that in spite of everything that is going on in the world, you can make it better. You don’t need a lot of time or a lot of money.”