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Notre Dame nice

| Tuesday, October 11, 2016

From time to time, I’ve had various friends and relatives come up to me and ask, “What is the best thing about going to the University of Notre Dame?” Competition for this title is stiff. I could speak at length about the strong academic programs, which I’ve now experienced across two colleges at two different degree levels. I could sing the praises of our campus’ architectural beauty, and the quasi-Victorian feeling I get when I walk among the lampposts on a foggy morning. But I came up with an answer my freshman year, and it’s been consistent ever since — the people.

I can think of exactly one time in the past five years I’ve been on Notre Dame campus when someone has been less than pleasant to me. I can hardly even count that event, as the person in question was at a football game and not exactly “dry.” The only other time someone has come close to being mean was when I accidentally stepped on their foot, which I feel essentially justified their frustrated-yet-non-malicious reaction. I recognize that not everyone has had an experience identical to mine, but it certainly feels like the majority opinion.

Note that being nice doesn’t mean we have to be tranquil, or to like everybody we come into contact with during our time here. I have plenty of friends here with whom I argue about everything from Latin grammar to international politics. But our discussions are always civil, good-hearted and, ultimately, are aimed at finding the right answer rather than scoring points. Similarly, there are plenty of people here who I just don’t want to be friends with for whatever reason, but I don’t run around telling them that or tormenting them, nor does anyone whom I know.

Some context is useful here. I was born and raised in Minnesota, a state that prides itself on epitomizing the mellow friendliness of the American Midwest. When I underwent driver’s education, a portion of the curriculum was dedicated to teaching my classmates and I how to merge more aggressively. As the joke goes, in 1965, two Minnesotans simultaneously approached a four-way stop, and they’re still there today. Suffice it to say that I know my niceness, and Notre Dame is nice even when subjected to the aggressive grading curve of a Minnesotan.

The lovely campus culture is one of the greatest assets Notre Dame has to offer for attracting prospective students. The friendly reception I received even as a prospie was a major factor in turning me towards Notre Dame. The more that we can do to be pleasant to one another, the better the quality of students we will attract. The cycle self-reinforces and helps make Notre Dame an example not just for colleges, but for all social spaces.

So what can we as Domers do in order to perpetuate this culture of politeness? Well, the simplest way is to keep paying forward the kindness we’ve been shown here. For example, we’ve all been in the position of needing to get somewhere on campus that we don’t know how to reach. The campus map is great, but it often lacks the nuances that only a student or faculty member can provide. In these cases, “do unto others as you would have them do unto you.” I for one enjoy acting as a GPS for new students — or not so new students — in need of navigation assistance. I even got recognized as a Minnesotan once while doing this. The woman who’d asked for my advice claimed to have recognized my accent, but I’m pretty sure it was my friendliness — like 99 percent of humans, I don’t have an accent.

The views expressed in this column are those of the author and not necessarily those of The Observer.

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