There’s a battle brewing over niceness. Talk about an oxymoron!
You may remember that last year Scott Siepker made a You Tube video extolling the virtues of Iowa and Iowans. It was called "Iowa Nice."
A couple of weeks ago the State of Nebraska introduced a tourism brand called "Nebraska Nice." It reportedly took the Nebraska Tourism Commission nine months to come up with the slogan. Some Iowans took umbrage, believing that Iowa Nice was here first and should not be copied, especially by an adjoining state. Iowa Nice Guy Scott Siepker said, "This means war." I’m not sure how this will end up but it will seem odd seeing people fight over which state’s people are the nicest. I have no argument that Iowans and Nebraskans are very nice people. I know some jerks in each state but the large majority of our people are nice.
Sometimes, however, we can become arrogant about our niceness. While I’m not a world traveler I have visited more than two-thirds of our 50 states and Mexico and have found nice people wherever I’ve gone.
Thirty years ago a friend and I developed a successful marketing plan for our church. He and I were asked to present this plan at our denomination’s annual meeting at Rutgers University in New Brunswick, New Jersey. My wife and I flew into Newark. Upon our arrival we discovered that our luggage had not. The airline promised to deliver it later that night.
Volunteers from nearby churches drove delegates from Newark to New Brunswick. We climbed into a beat up old station wagon and headed south. The driver was a fast talker with a strong Jersey accent. I had gone to New Jersey with the notion that we Iowans were friendlier than folks from the East. Nonetheless, I was sitting in the front seat and in Iowa country boy fashion I struck up a conversation with the driver.
I was surprised when a friendly dialog ensued. The driver worked for an international news service in New York City and was interested in my job at the Sioux City Journal. He told me about his wife and children. Sometime later, during a lull in our conversation, the driver overheard me visit with my wife about our missing luggage.
"Hey, let me help you!" the driver offered in his rapid-fire Jersey way of talking. He offered to take us me to a shopping mall in East Brunswick where we could purchase a few necessities. He said his wife and children were at a movie in the mall and they would drive us to the Rutgers campus.
After dropping off the other passengers at Rutgers, the driver took us to the mall and told us to meet him at a specific point an hour later. At that time we met his wife and children, got into his station wagon and headed for New Brunswick.
We quickly learned that his wife was even friendlier than her husband and we had a wonderful conversation. The driver asked if I liked history and I told him I did. He veered off the freeway and gave us a historical tour of New Brunswick (which was founded in 1730) pointing out notable sites and homes of famous Americans including that of Joyce Kilmer, who wrote the beautiful poem, Trees. By the time we got to Rutgers University we had missed one session of the weekend program and nearly missed dinner. We said goodbye and thanked them for their kindness. Later that night, as I lay in my too-small dorm room bed trying to go to sleep, I thought about the kindness of our new New Jersey friends. They talked faster than we do, were more animated in their conversations and drove quite aggressively. They were, however, just as kind and considerate as anyone I knew in Iowa. It’s easy to feel superior about our our church, our state and our nation. In reality, around the globe we are all made in the image of God and each of us bears the potential to reflect His goodness. Iowa nice. Nebraska nice. Let’s not get too worked up over which state is nicer. There are 48 other states–and an entire world–in the competition.