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Positively Not Nice

Posted by Jen on January 6, 2010 at 11:53 AM in behavior
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My children know what a sucker I am for personality tests, organizational training or any other such management mumbo-jumbo. I can't help it. I love trying to figure out how people work best and how our natural inclinations feed (or foil) our best intentions. So I couldn't resist when I discovered the Positive Impact Test. No one even batted an eye at my house when I suggested we take the test on if it was meant for corporate execs and not necessarily mothers and children.

The Positive Impact Test is based on Tom Rath's book How Full is Your Bucket. The test (designed for adults) measures your recent positive interactions as well as how often you engage in habits that naturally contribute to the lives of people around you. The premise is that all day long we engage in activities, attitudes or postures that either increase other people's sense of well-being or we take away and that people enjoy life most when their "bucket" of positivity is full to overflowing.

We took turns taking the test half-serious but also a little curious. Was there anyone in this house with a penchant for creating positivity? No one was too sure, but everyone wanted to find out.

I won't reveal who scored what but I will say our struggles/triumphs with making a positive contribution were well-distributed across the continuum. We nodded in solemn agreement when one person in our family, notorious for almost never making eye-contact, had to answer "strongly disagree" to the statement about smiling at people you meet. We moaned in protest when another person, famous in our house for issuing blistering critiques tried to score "strongly agree" on the statement about freely extending recognition of others. And we each gave ourselves high marks for the declaration about enjoying being around positive people. At least we're all on the same page there!

Sitting with our scores and sparing with another about our varying results, I wondered if a simple online quiz would get these kids thinking about their interactions. At eight and eleven, it's a veritable miracle that they don't fight twenty-four hours a day, though the negativity between them seems to be increasing as the developmental gap widens between them with age. "Is this just a ploy to get people to be nicer?" the older, more savvy customer asked. "Aren't I nice enough already?" said the younger who took his test with his customary breeziness and honesty.

And herein lies the rub.

Kids are asked all the time to be nice which often looks more like being inauthentic, faking it or going through the motions. And being nice doesn't require that you be honest--in fact, the opposite is most often true. Being nice can absolutely be an exercise in sparing people from the truth, especially if exposing the truth adds a layer of complication to your relationship that you'd rather not deal with.

Knowing how to be positive and how to recognize the positive things unfolding around you is a skill that anyone can develop--and it doesn't require you to cover anything over or pretend that difficulties or complications do not exist. It's about taking on a perspective that helps you stay hopeful. It's about recognizing how your take on things can help (or hurt) other people in their attempt to stay hopeful, too.

"I don't think it's about being nice," I told them both. "It's more about understanding that having a positive outlook on what's happening can help you and that talking that way helps other people, too."

What do you think? Are you teaching your kids to be nice or to be positive? Do you think you can find a way for them to be authentic and honest (especially about elephants in the room) in the process?


Esther Crawford writes...

I'm a sucker for those tests too. I'm an ENTP if you've ever taken the Myers-Briggs version. I was recently thinking about how we'll teach baby Jude to be nice, without being fake. If he's frustrated or sad or even angry I want him to have the vocabulary and the resources to show it in an appropriate way because emotions (even the negative ones) are an essential part of life.

Jess writes...

This reminds me of the lyric from Sondheim's "Into the Woods":

You're so nice.
You're not good,
You're not bad,
You're just nice.

It's definitely a struggle to balance authenticity with personal responsibility and social appropriateness. I do find myself waffling on how much to emphasize being "nice".

Pam writes...

You can be an honest person without being candid all the time. I think that's a good lesson.

Mariella writes...

I am teaching her to be *polite* even if she's not feeling so nice at the moment. A positive outlook is always good too! :)

Karen writes...

Thanks for this, very thought-provoking. This expresses what I've been trying to get at but failing to articulate well in helping my kids interact with each other.

Sarah writes...

I would love to see a list of some of your favorite online tests and personality quizzes. That was fun!

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