Over a decade ago, I saw a movie that changed my life. It was "Harvey" (1950) with Jimmy Stewart.
I had fallen in with "the bad crowd." I spent some nights and all weekends with guys named "Pisco", "John Smith", and "Neil Edwards" (who used his street name after graduation when he became a local radio DJ.)
In the course of an altercation, I had an epiphany. I decided that I didn't like the person that I had become. And, I wanted to change. But, in order to do that, I had to identify what it was that made me the person I didn't like.
My upbringing had been, according to some, harsh. I had strict parents. I had what we now call "stretch goals" in that I was always expected to do better. For example, I once got a 98% on a math test and my mother complained, "What happened to the other two percent?" And, my school life was more difficult. Because I was neither white nor black, both groups took any opportunity to harass me emotionally or physically. I took solace in being "right" so that I could better weather the attacks.
It was easier for me to tolerate being beat up on the playground for skewing the curve on a test if I had gotten the highest grade. All through school, I defended myself by being right.
Once I went to high school and college, being right didn't help me get through the day. It became just another source of ridicule. It helped put the big chip on my shoulder that led me to hold a grudge against the world.
So, I needed to figure out how to get rid of that chip. I needed to figure out how to change my perspective on life. I needed to figure out how to just not care whether or not I was right.
I needed to, instead, resolve to be Pleasant.
Since that time, I have insisted on being pleasant. I try to return anger with friendliness. I look for the funny in any situation. I try to give a smile to everyone I meet. I wave to strangers. I give gifts of candy when I have it. I give to charity, even when I can't afford it.
I still argue some topics, but I pick and choose. I ask myself if the energy that the argument would take up could be better spent. I ask myself if the stress that I might feel is worth it. I ask myself if this is going to be one of the occasions that I go against my philosophy of being "Oh So Pleasant."
Every resolution gets broken. Every diet gets cheated on. Every financial plan gets derailed. The key is to accept it when it happens and get back on the wagon.
I resolved to eat a banana every day. I haven't had one since Christmas, but it is just a trip to the store to go back to that decision. I resolved to set aside $50 per paycheck for an emergency. That amount of money has trickled through my fingertips due to my current financial situation, but I still set it aside and then dip into it as the emergency situation continues.
I resolved to be Oh So Pleasant. And, one certain person spent months looking for my anger buttons and pushed them in a deliberate attempt to make me snap. In her own words, "It isn't good for a person to bottle up their anger, you need to get mad more often." And, she still makes me mad three years later. But, I accept that because I keep to my promise for other people.
Some people whom I have shared my philosophy with have tried to tell me that being Smart and Pleasant were not mutually exclusive. But, I think that the need to appear smart often over rides the desire to appear pleasant. It is hard to accept being wrong, or being accused of being wrong, after getting into the habit of defending yourself with facts. It is easy to turn an eclectic knowledge base into an arrogant attitude. It is difficult, potentially impossible, to pleasantly correct someone.
Oh, there are downsides. I once had a Team Lead at work who thought that I was the dumbest person ever and that influenced the work that she would assign to me. I've had to endure false accusations simply because it was more important to me at the time to keep my pleasant outlook than to stand up for myself.
Despite what Elwood's mother said, not everyone has to choose between being Oh So Smart or Oh So Pleasant. But, I did. And, I also recommend Pleasant.