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Being nice

I’m a curmudgeon. It’s who I am. I may be curmudgeonly for good reasons [1] and positive reasons [2], but I’m still a curmudgeon. Those who only know me through my musings, particularly my rants or essays like this one, may think that implies that I’m not a particularly nice person. But I am, or at least I try to be [3]. How?

I work hard to support my students. And by my students, I include my advisees, students in my classes, students in the CS department, and students who I encounter in other circumstances. I try to listen to their problems, help them consider ways to approach those problems. celebrate their successes, challenge them intellectually, and do what I can to help move them forward in life. I also make snarky comments to them, whether or not they deserve it. I think most of them understand that the former approaches are supposed to trump the latter.

I also try to be positively supportive of colleagues around campus. I do succeed at times. For example, here are a few notes I recently received, some of which were inspired by notes that I sent.

Thank you, Sam! That’s very kind of you! [4]

Thanks so much for your lovely note, Sam. I’m very excited to be participating and look forward to my work with the program this year. I hope your semester gets off to a great start! [5]

Even more than the tenure gift, I appreciate the letter that accompanied it. But I use the gift regularly. [7]

I wish you were at the Chairs’ meeting with me; the Dean wouldn’t have been so frustrated with my comments if he’d had to deal with yours.

Whoops! Maybe that last one doesn’t quite support whatever claim I’m trying to make, unless that claim is some people appreciate me. Let’s try one more

I don’t see how you can be a curmudgeon; you always great everyone with such joy and verve. [8]

Yeah, that’s better. But it’s also wrong. I do greet people with joy and verve. I am happy to work with the people I work with. But, well, I can do all that and still be a curmudgeon. I may even be a curmudgeon because I’m happy to work with people; I want to make sure those people are well supported.

But I should work hard to ensure that I show people more of the positive side of myself rather than the grumpy. Maybe I should go back to saying Great, rather than Old, Fat, Tired, and Grumpy, when people ask, How are you? Maybe I should try to find a way to convince Communications that I should be allowed to make a new nametag that says Friendly Curmudgeon [9]. We’ll see.


[1] E.g., I embrace my values.

[2] E.g., I argue for things that help support students.

[3] Even to administrators.

[4] Name Elided. Email message entitled Re: Congratulations! and dated 21 August 2017.

[5] Name Elided. Email message entitled Re: Congratulations! and dated 22 August 2017 [6].

[6] My second message of congratulations went to someone other than the recipient of the first message of congratulations. Both messages were well deserved.

[7] Paraphrase of a comment I hear with some regularity.

[8] Also a paraphrase of a comment I hear with some regularity. I suppose people don’t use verve, but the intent is there.

[9] Or maybe Curmudgeonly Friend.


Version 1.0 of 2017-08-26.