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Resilience meets Minnesota Nice

Billboard in Western Minnesota. (Photo by Arlene Anderson)

I used to be really nice but that’s kind of ... over. The following story shows you why. Perhaps you can recall your own unique version of this tale?

As newlyweds many years ago, my spouse and I went shopping for a dining room table. Upon entering a store, we found ourselves listening to an enthusiastic salesperson drone on about the virtues of a particular floor model. I had some reservations about the style and color but thought my spouse liked it and so agreed to the purchase.

A month after we brought it home, I discovered my spouse had the same reservations but agreed to buy it because he thought I liked it. The one who actually liked the dining room table was the salesperson. We had that furniture in our house over 10 years.

The irony and humor of this did not escape us. That less-than-ideal table served as a constant reminder that if we wanted to get better results, we needed to be bolder about expressing our true opinions.

The fact that Minnesota promotes being “nice” is admirable. The trouble comes when we take it to an extreme. An acquaintance of mine jokes that in Minnesota you can be considered high-maintenance if you ask for cream in your coffee.

I’ve come a long way since the dining room table incident but still have to guard against things like saying “yes” when I mean “no.” These days when someone calls me with a request, I don’t respond right away but give myself time to think through my answer. It helps me do what I need to do to take proper care of myself.

Resilient people, those who can deal with unexpected difficulties and bounce back as needed, are not necessarily “nice” people. Rather, they are the ones who are able to set clear and healthy boundaries and say what they mean. No one does this perfectly. The good news is that if we learned to be indirect; we can learn to be direct. And being direct is often the nicest thing to do.

When traveling, I work hard at figuring out what is courteous in unfamiliar cultures. I can adapt enough to enjoy a good bear hug from a near stranger, hurl myself into a crowded train or delicately field a question in public about what I consider a private matter. It is a fun challenge.

Yet it always feels good to be back in Duluth where people are generally polite, reserved and mild-mannered. I understand these behaviors with no explanations required. Understatement comes naturally to me. This is the place where I “get” all the jokes and it seems easy to know what is actually going on.

Choosing good company increases resilience. Thank you for always welcoming me back, people of Duluth. And I do mean that sincerely, even if it sounds like I’m just being nice.

Arlene Anderson

Arlene J. Anderson is a Twin Ports native turned writer, teacher, traveler and speaker on resilience and leadership. She is currently working on her memoir to be released next summer. She believes there is always more music to play and dancing to do.