ax2 + bx – c = be nice

Sep 272006
Authors: Geoffrey Johnson

So I’ve written about varying things thus far this semester as a columnist: Ousting states, a whacky look at the “lighter side” of procrastination, and the creepy things I and other guys do.

But this week, I’d like to get a little bit more serious. I can’t help it.

Now that I’ve lost half my audience (which means approximately three people are reading this now – thanks, mom and dad), I shall proceed.

I was speaking with a young woman, a representative of HRC (Human Rights Campaign – a GLBT rights group) between the library and Clark A the other day.

She mentioned other groups that try and get people’s attention in the plaza.

“Don’t get me started,” I said – my voice cracking – because boy-oh-boy I didn’t want her to get me started.

“They’d probably have a lot more luck if they were nicer,” she said.

And it dawned on me. They would have a lot more luck if they added nice and subtracted mean. ‘Plug’ that into the quadratic equation; carry the four; divide by the . sine-cosine something-something.


It’s relatively simple math. But more importantly, it’s a lesson we learn from a very young age, that one: “Be nice.”

“Be nice” is the lesson that comes somewhere between those involving poop and pee (and their rightful place – in the potty), and the one about sharing your toys with other children.

Each of the afore-mentioned three, I might add, is very important in its own way.

“Sure, Geoff. We know what ‘be nice’ means. But how might people apply this lesson of ‘be nice’ to the people in the Plaza?”

Surely that’s what you’re asking me – whether in your head, or aloud to one of your cats – at this point.

What we’re looking at here is one particular piece of “be nice”: The more-bees-with-honey principle.

The bees, in this metaphor, are people: People who might not beforehand share the views of the person who may or may not give them honey. The honey would be – you guessed it – being nice.

The young woman I creeped out outside the library was very nice. She didn’t have to sway me to her side, because I considered myself a GLBT ally before I ever met her.

But I might have done my trademark “No-I-don’t-have-a-minute-I’m-late” move if she hadn’t been so nice.

You might remember the people on the Plaza over the course of the first few days of school. They walked around with big signs that said things like, “YOU ARE BORN A WORTHLESS SINNER HEADED FOR HELL,” and shouted things like, “Everything you’ve been taught is wrong!”

People don’t stop and listen to those people or try and engage them when they behave that way, for the most part, unless it’s purely for entertainment purposes – kind of a let’s-see-what-this-guy-does sort of thing.

Generally, people either walk away laughing or annoyed.

Does honey ever annoy you (excluding situations in which the jar is really sticky or something)?

Answer: No, it does not; honey doesn’t upset people; honey rarely leads to any annoyance (except in rare cases mostly associated with advanced more-bees-with-honey theory).

Like I said, it’s simple math:

ax2 + bx – c = don’t be such (expletive)ing (expletive)s and what you say might actually sink in.

I didn’t tell the young woman that she’d sparked an epiphany in me; I didn’t realize it. I was too busy trying to “be nice.”

I was, in truth, too busy stuttering: “I – I never do this.”; “Oh – oh. sorry.”; and running off to read my nerdy English books and stroke what I’m calling a pseudo-beard in front of Eddy.

I wasn’t listening to my own theories; I was really being kind of creepy.

Geoffrey Johnson is a senior English major. His column appears Tuesdays in the Collegian. Replies and feedback can be sent to

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