Because it matters…

Your mom told you to be nice because it was the right thing to do. Doing the right thing is important. But, there’s a much more self-serving reason to be nice. When you’re nice, folks are nice to you!

I’ve often been astonished by how NOT-nice folks were in the historical American West. Folks killed each other for grazing the wrong kind of animal, for having the wrong color skin and for having the wrong kind or reputation. But, a few folks were nice, too.

Here’s a true story you may not have heard before that shows what happens when someone is nice.

Sometime around the mid-1700’s, a Nez Perce village was raided by warriors from another tribe. Men were killed, women were raped and children were kidnapped. One of those children was forced into slavery and eventually sold to another tribe.

There she was forced to do whatever no one else wanted to do. A lifetime of back-breaking labor was her lot, simply because she was from the wrong tribe.

Years later, the Native Americans in this new village were visited by white pioneers, who took mercy on the poor slave. Now a grown woman, she was redeemed by the settlers and allowed to have her freedom.

Eventually, she returned to her Nez Perce people and allowed to live out her life in peace. She was respected for surviving through the most difficult times, and was given a name of honor, Watkuweis (WATT-coo-wees), which means “returned from a far land.”

The story would have ended here. Except that in 1806, more white people visited. These men were wealthy beyond imagination. They had rifles, which were a brand new innovation in the American West. Very few Indian tribes had them. They had steel implements, beads, colorful bolts of factory-made cloth…all things most Native Americans had not yet seen and even fewer ever owned.

Tribal leaders planned to sneak into the visitors’ camp during the night and quietly cut their throats. The captured booty would have made them the richest and most powerful tribe in North America.

But, Watkuweis, remembering how white people had treated her, talked them out of it. And, that is the story of how Meriwether Lewis, William Clark and their Corps of Discovery survived to tell the story of one of the greatest adventures in American history.

Descendants of families from that very same village still recall Watkuweis’ words, which have been handed down from generation to generation since then. “Be good to them. Be kind to them. Because, they were kind to me when I was far, far away from here.” (Lewis and Clark: The Journey of the Corps of Discovery.)

So, be nice! Be nice because your mother told you to. Be nice because it’s the right thing to do. And, if those aren’t enough reason for you, be nice because some day you may need someone to be nice to you!

Galen Lehman
Galen Lehman, President, Lehman’s

Galen Lehman
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