See this bumper sticker?

Isn’t it awesome?

I saw it the other day in rush-hour traffic in Plano, Texas, just north of Dallas. The location was not lost on me. Texas and I have struggled to “be nicer” to each other for a very long time.

As a boy growing up in Dallas, I hated everything about Texas: the dirt, the heat, the (perceived) lack of culture. At ten, eleven, twelve, thirteen, I used to sit in my bedroom on Lake Haven Drive and watch the hands on my Mickey Mouse clock. Wondering how many times Mickey’s white gloves had to go around before I turned eighteen and could get the hell out of Dodge. At twenty-five, I did just that (I’ve never been known for my punctuality). I moved to Boston. A place with cool sea air, lots of history and heaps of culture.

Texas wasn’t exactly sad to see me go. After all, this was the state that, in the early days of AIDS, came thisclose to enacting legislation that would have quarantined gay men. You know, in the interest of public health.

I lived in Boston for nineteen years, very much creating the life I’d always wanted. Along the way, my distaste for Texas grew. It’s what you do if you live in New England: look down on pretty much anywhere that isn’t New England. Except maybe Florida during the winter months. New Englanders have particular disdain for Texas. After all, Texas killed a Kennedy. Texas hates gays, denigrates women, and has never gotten over losing “the war of Northern aggression.”

But then my Boston years ended and I started letting go of the life I desired and began considering the one I had. I began to look at Texas not through lenses smudged with past wrongs and projected judgments, but, rather, through the lens of what is. Today.

Without a doubt, I still saw a lot that’s wrong with my native state, which I can summarize in six words: Greg Abbott, Dan Patrick, Ted Cruz. I also saw a lot that is right, including this quote from the state legislature’s Republican Speaker of the House on a “bathroom bill” that discriminates against trans citizens: “If we’ve gotten to the point in our civilization that politicians have to pass bills about bathroom stuff, we’ve gotten really out of control. I oppose it.” I saw that a Dallas church chose welcoming its gay members over continued membership in the Southern Baptist Convention and I watched the repeated acts of open-hearted compassion my elementary school friends, including some who used to bully me, showed to everyone. Not just those who looked or thought or voted as they did.

In the process, I became nicer to Texas and the people who call it home. Which brings me back to this bumper sticker.

Because it’s pretty awesome, isn’t it? I mean, think about it: Life really boils down a series of never-ending “-er” choices: Am I going to be nicer or meaner? Happier or sadder? Harder or softer?

Now, I know, I know. There are those who say, “Oh please, how very unenlightened of you. I choose to live in a world unencumbered by our conditioned notions of duality” (Yes, Virginia, some people really do talk like that!). But, I’ve yet to meet anyone who lives free of duality, including and, perhaps, especially those who claim to. To me, we can see duality. We can understand its traps. And we can even have moments of true balance where we’re neither this nor that. But we can’t ever fully escape it. It’s just part of the cosmic joke of how we’re wired.

But we can choose.

And that choice, always, can be to be nicer. Not just nice. Nice is just the beginning…and a very nice one at that. But nicer? That’s a bit more tricky. Because it asks us to be a bit more soft A bit more forgiving. A bit more present in this big wide, crowded world we call home.

Nice is an external goal. We’re nice when we think we’re supposed to be, when we think someone’s looking. Nicer is an internal action. A choice that, often, only we know.

And that’s not always easy.

Just a few minutes ago, I was coming home from the grocery store. My body was driving the car, but my mind was tucked away in a party of one writing and re-writing this particular post in my head.

This post about being nicer.

Suddenly, some jackass in a big white SUV (with Texas plates) came cutting across the parking lot for no reason other than, well I don’t know the reason because I wasn’t in his car. But I do know his action pissed me off because it caused me to slam on my brakes.

And come out of the sanctuary of my own head.

Several choices flared. None of them would have made my mother proud. And, as I sat in the car in the split seconds after this SOB cut me off, I decided to turn the other way and continue where I was going.

I decided to be nicer.

At first, it didn’t feel good. No, not at all. My car was headed home, but my mind was still back in the parking lot, fuming at the one-and-a-half second injustice done to me. But, by the third stop light, that changed. OK, maybe it was the fourth light.

And I thought, you know, maybe there really is something to this being nicer. Maybe in this season of celebrating renewal and resurrection, we can all stand to be a little nicer.

Not just today when millions of us are in our Easter finest, but on Wednesday. Maybe Thursday, too. When we’re in the midst of yet another work week and our co-worker has, yet again, failed to clean up his mess in the breakroom or when we come home to a spouse who looks almost nothing at all like the person we married.

Not because being nicer will bring world peace. But because, when you have the choice, why would you choose otherwise? Unless what’s really going on is that you don’t want to be nicer…

…to yourself.