Is being pleasant a virtue? That’s the question I asked myself recently after interacting with mostly pleasant people all day. Those people include my fellow Sisters of Notre Dame. My experience has been that we are, as a group, basically pleasant women. It also includes the employees of this apartment complex I now live in. (NOTE: A few weeks ago I moved into another building on our large SND campus—an apartment complex that is part of Notre Dame Village here in Munson Township.) Here I frequently bump into other residents, housekeeping people, food service personnel, and maintenance workers—and they too are pleasant. Recently I went into a drug store where I asked a clerk who was stocking shelves where I could find a certain item. She not only told me where I could find it, she stopped what she was doing and took me to the exact place where my item was. And she did this very pleasantly—even cheerfully.
Being pleasant isn’t automatic. When I was a novice, another novice accused me of “being born with happy genes.” Although we may be predisposed to being pleasant by genetics or upbringing, sooner or later, after we’ve experienced some “major thwacks” in life, we realize we have to cultivate pleasantness as a general policy. I look upon pleasantness as the oil that lubricates interpersonal relationships. Or as the soothing lotion that smooths away our rough edges. Or as the light fragrance that permeates the atmosphere, putting everyone in a slightly better mood.
Heaven knows there are plenty of good reasons NOT to be pleasant. Just read the news headlines. Or perhaps there are physical conditions that get in the way of being pleasant: headaches, arthritis, indigestion. Other factors that can suffocate pleasantness are worries about loved ones, trouble at work, strained relationships, financial problems, fear of the future, feelings of inadequacy—and the list goes on.
I’m not saying we must always be pleasant. Everyone is entitled to a crabby day every now and then. Even Jesus wasn’t pleasant all the time. He was impatient with the obtuseness of his disciples. He railed against the scribes and Pharisees on more than one occasion. And certainly he was far from pleasant when he drove the money changers from the Temple—while wielding a whip, no less. There are situations that demand that we NOT be pleasant; for example, when we see someone being mistreated or when we witness a grave injustice. During my teaching years, I sometimes had to put on my not-so-pleasant-face when confronting a student about his or her behavior. (More than once, such a student said to me: “You’re a nun! You’re supposed to be nice!”)
I look upon pleasantness as the little sister of love. A pleasant demeanor becomes an incarnation of the love we profess as Christians. As a virtue, it can be “practiced” our entire life–even when we may be confined to a health care center. Case in point: the other day I was walking through our health care center and I met one of our oldest sisters, Sister Ronauld. She was being pushed in her wheelchair by one of our aids. The three of us greeted each other pleasantly. Then I asked sister directly, “And how are you today, Sister?”
She smiled broadly and said, “I am having a very good day.” Then added, “How about you?” I said I was having a very good day too, and added, “Especially now—because I’ve met you!” Later I reflected on her words. How could she—objectively speaking—be having a very good day? After all, she’s 96! She’s in a wheelchair. She has to depend on others to go just about anywhere. And she needs help with all of her personal needs. And yet she can still be such a pleasant woman. I have never lived with her, but those who have tell me, “She was a joy to live with.” Pleasantness, then, was not a virtue she decided to practice when she turned 90. It was probably a virtue she lived her entire life.
Let us conclude this reflection with this little prayer:
God, source of all love, help me to be a more pleasant person—especially in my daily interactions with others: those I live with, I work beside, I serve or who serve me, and even total strangers I encounter on any given day. Keep me more mindful of my demeanor, my facial expression, my choice of words, and the tone in which I speak them. If I encounter a situation that demands that I NOT be pleasant, give me the courage to speak and act on behalf of others. May I always remember that being pleasant is a part of the love that you are calling me to extend to others. And finally, I thank you for all the pleasant people I will encounter today. Amen.
On a scale of 1-10 (10 being the highest) where do you rate your pleasantness?
Can you recall some situations when you felt called NOT to be pleasant? If so, describe one of those times.
I said pleasantness is the little sister of love. Is she also the little sister of faith? Explain your answer.
I chose three SHORT videos for today. The first is a Eucharistic song entitled “Many and Great.” It’s written by Fr. Ricky Manalo, a Paulist priest who currently teachers at Santa Clara University, a Jesuit University in Silicon Valley, CA. He’s written some beautiful new liturgical music (some with Asian overtones) and has won numerous awards. The second video is a 4 minute interview with Fr. Manalo entitled “Praying at the Piano.” And the third, is a beautiful version of Ukraine’s National Anthem.
“Many and Great” by Fr. Ricky Manalo:
“Praying at the Piano,” interview with Fr. Ricky Manalo:
Here is the National Anthem of Ukraine sung by Zlata Ognevich. The photos highlight the beauty of this country… before the war…
I invite you to comment below on anything regarding today’s reflection.