It’s Important To Be Nice: Just Ask The Olive Garden Lady

Remember Marilyn Hagerty, the North Dakota restaurant critic who reviewed the Olive Garden in Grand Forks last year? And all you snarky big city jerks made fun of her for it?

Full disclosure here: I grew up on a farm 30 miles from Grand Forks. There is no such thing as “dining” there. There are fast food restaurants, many chain restaurants and a few local places. That’s it. There’s not enough population nor interest to sustain any dining culture there. Anyway, that’s all been said a million times before, but I knew it firsthand. That Olive Garden opening was a big deal – we had been waiting many years for it. (Obviously I live in Minneapolis, where things are a little different, but I’m down to eat at Olive Garden anytime.)

The important takeaway from the story of Marilyn, who recently appeared on CBS News Sunday Morning, is that it’s important to be nice. Watch her HERE and tell me you don’t think she is wonderful. (The video is about three minutes, so you have no excuse not to.)

In the Midwest, niceness is a culture. We smile at everyone. Drivers passing one another on country roads always wave – always. In small towns, everyone knows everyone and while there’s a good deal of gossip and nosiness, people are generally nice. There’s no point in being mean when you live in a town of 350.

Marilyn, who is 87, is a careful, detailed critic. She’s a positive critic, which is saying something. Marilyn sees nothing wrong in highlighting the good versus the bad, which is an admirable trait. We’re so quick to jump on the negatives, myself included, that when someone points out the good in a simple way (she checks out napkins and bathrooms, giving compliments where they’re deserved) we freak out. We make fun of them. Why be positive when you can be snarky and sarcastic?

Criticism is important. A culture without criticism and differing opinions would be boring and whitebread sanitized. But criticizing everything in your path makes you a sad grey cloud of a person. And being nasty for nastiness’ sake, or picking apart another person or making fun of an old woman for complimenting the Olive Garden’s soup, is not very nice at all. Negativity should not be the whole of your day.

It’s important to be nice. Nice people have better karma. Marilyn got her 15 minutes of fame, appearing on national TV and scoring a book deal via Anthony Bourdain, who even wrote the foreword. That’s amazing! But Marilyn worked hard for many years before that fateful, viral review and was known around Grand Forks for her positivity and simple, sweet outlook. If you’re from Grand Forks, you know who Marilyn Hagerty is regardless of any Olive Garden.

Nice people are happier people, simple as that. If you’re not nice, it doesn’t matter how many greens you eat or how many miles you run; you’re never going to be as light in your heart as a nice person. People who look for the positive – even something as simple as a clean bathroom in a restaurant! – are admirable. It’s hard to be nice and positive all the time, and nobody should be a Mary Sunshine 24/7, but niceness is the most important quality a person can possess, I think.

It’s important to be nice to everyone. Be nice to baristas, shopgirls, the person who hands you your McDonalds. Be nice to valets, who freeze their asses off getting your car. Be nice to the person you see in the parking garage every day, because one day she might let you park for free. Be nice to the person bagging your groceries. We shape your day, though you might not realize it. Smile. As someone who has worked retail for three years, even a simple “How are YOU doing?” to the sales associate ringing you up can turn around her day. Take interest in other people. Look for the positive. Channel your inner Marilyn. TC mark

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