Once upon a time, an old man was walking down the street, so says Aesop in one of his fables. As he shuffled along clutching his cloak, the wind and the sun got into an argument as to which of them was able to make the man part from his blanket.
The wind went first. He blew and blew and blew, but to no avail. The harder he blew, the harder the man clung to the cloak.
Then it was the sun’s turn. He simply slid out from behind the clouds and caused the man to wipe his brow so that within minutes, he quickly took off his cloak. In the end, gentle persuasion is better than blustery explosions.
As Ben Franklin once put it, “Tart words make no friends: a spoonful of honey will catch more flies than a gallon of vinegar.” If we want others to treat us well, there’s no better way than for us to treat them well.
Who says nice guys always finish last? Who says good deeds never go unpunished? There’s a powerful, short book on the subject of encouragement, called, Being Nice—a Winner’s Secret Weapon: How it Pays to be Nice. The author is Mike LeFan of Temple, Texas, who notes, “Kind words are the music of the world.”
LeFan writes: “’It’s odd,’ says a Texas businessman, ‘but big businesses and corporations spend thousands and even millions of dollars on creating products and services and on advertising them, but they neglect the one thing that both customers and employees really respond to—appreciation.’ What could be simpler or more effective than offering appreciation? It costs nothing. Yet it’s practically ignored at work, at home, and in the community. Most of us dole out more criticism than approval.”
LeFan points out the importance of encouragement. He writes, “Where there’s praise, there will be second effort.”
He quotes Mark Twain who said, “I can live for two months on a good compliment.”
A 2008 study at Harvard involving gamesmanship found that it actually pays to be nice, rather than to be a jerk. LeFan asserts, “When faced with an offensive opponent, turning the other cheek and continuing to cooperate—or at least not inflicting punishment—paid off better in the long run. In other words, ‘playing nice’ was more profitable than playing in a cutthroat fashion.”
LeFan has culled through the wisdom of Western civilization for many fine thoughts on being a nice guy, such as Sophocles from the 5th century BC: “Kindness will always attract kindness.” Or Frederick William Faber of the 19th century, “Kindness has converted more sinners than zeal, eloquence, or learning.”
This little book stands on its own merits. But I happen to know something about the author that makes it absolutely remarkable to me.
In my work at Coral Ridge Ministries (now Truth in Action Ministries), I’ve interviewed some interesting people. Michael LeFan is one of them. He contracted polio when he was eight years old in 1954. Yet he doesn’t complain about it and is sustained by his faith in the Lord.
LeFan writes, “My polio left me totally paralyzed—almost. I needed someone else’s help to eat, bathe, dress, and take care of all personal necessities. And I still need that. But as months and years passed, I found that my left leg and foot had movement, even dexterity. It began as a way to entertain myself, but over time I learned to pick up a pencil in my toes and eventually even to scribble with it.”
Every word I just quoted was tapped out, stroke by stroke, by his left foot—with a pencil in between his big and next toe, using the eraser side to hit a computer keyboard. Stroke by stroke. He has written books this way, including his new book on being nice and including the book from which the above quote comes, called, Patience, My Foot!
Despite his polio, despite sleeping in an iron lung each night, Michael has gone to college earning an undergraduate degree. He took notes using his left foot.
In fact, he discovered he had dexterity enough with his left foot to do all sorts of things. He has painted pictures with a brush between his toes; he’s even served as president of the local ham radio club, operating the radio with just his foot.
Setbacks and disappointments come to us all. Sometimes it’s easy in life to feel sorry for yourself, holding back any kindness to those whom we perceive have mistreated us. But I believe we can learn much about encouragement (not to mention perseverance) from a polio victim, who persists in his writings—stroke by stroke, tap by tap, using just his left foot
In his new book comes this gem from Ian Maclaren: “Be kind; everyone you meet is fighting a hard battle.” Surely, Michael LeFan is fighting a harder battle than most of us.
So show a little kindness today, and be a part of the music of the world.