What The World Needs Now Is Nice Notes
I’ve been thinking a lot about kindness over the last few weeks and how important it is to our general well-being as humans, particularly in light of the last couple of years where there seems to be a dearth of kindness in our public sphere. Thinking about kindness got me thinking about the wonderful friends I’ve had over the years, many of whom I met at BYU. Thinking about BYU got me thinking about my time at BYU, which brought me full-circle by thinking about Nice Notes.
For those who’ve never spent much time around BYU’s campus, you are missing out on a truly unique cultural experience. Every college campus has its own personality, but BYU is a culture unto itself. People refer to it as the BYU Bubble, or the Provo bubble – a little microcosm of Mormon purity in all its glory. Certainly not everyone on campus is as innocent as a newborn babe, but when many of the dominant social events on campus include singing hymns in the tunnels on Sunday night, going to Tuesday devotionals, gathering en masse for LDS General Conference, and attending comedy shows put on by troupes with names like Divine Comedy, BYU students and newborn babes are a pretty fair comparison. Just check out this Inside Out video parody of dating at BYU as further proof.
One such endearing aspect of BYU culture is the idea of nice notes. Rather than splitting into sororities or fraternities (which BYU doesn’t have), students are split into LDS wards, or church congregations, mainly comprised of people in or near your apartment complex. Each ward has a number of committees, one of which is some variant of a Friendshipping Committee, and it is this committee that uses nice notes as a way of fostering friendship among ward members.
What is a Nice Note, you ask? It’s exactly what it sounds like – a nice note. Generally speaking, after church anyone who wanted to could write a little note to someone else in the ward, which would then be collected and redistributed later that day. It was like a weekly distribution of grade school Valentines, only without the candy or superhero cards. Nice notes were simple, and often included messages like, “I loved your hair today!” or “Great Sunday School lesson!” Sometimes they were used as a precursor to a date, with phrases like, “You looked really cute today ;)” or “It was fun talking to you at church today! Let’s go get ice cream at the Creamery sometime soon!”
No matter how simple or how short, it was always fun to get a nice note. It was a little reminder that someone in the world was thinking of you and appreciated you in some way. Yet my history with nice notes goes even a layer deeper than wholesome flirtation.
My second to last year at BYU, my roommate, Ashley, and I decided that we wanted to get to know the people in our ward a little better, so we volunteered to deliver the nice notes on behalf of the Friendshipping Committee. After the first week, we decided we wanted to spice things up a little, and since it was December, we settled on singing Christmas carols at each apartment we visited. This worked really well until January, when Christmas was over. Looking for other options, we tried caroling with hymns, which seemed appropriate since we delivered on Sundays, but they were frankly a little too boring for the kind of upbeat cheer we were trying to bring (no offense, hymns).
One night, Ashley and I were brainstorming how to make nice note delivery more exciting. We thought caroling had been a success and wished we could just keep caroling, so we decided to dress up as the Ghosts of Christmas past and sing carols again. We dressed up in all white and went door to door, singing Christmas carols in January and delivering nice notes. And thus began a year and a half of epic nice note delivery that involved all of my roommates and many others in the ward who contributed time and/or props to our endeavor.
Here are a few photos of some of the best nice note deliveries:
Looking back on my time as a nice note delivery girl, I think that was one of the happiest times of my adult life, not because college was any better than any other time in my life, but rather because I was able to bring joy to people (even if it was sometimes an annoyed joy) and help them feel a little bit of love in the midst of the stress of college and the challenges of figuring out who we were as very young adults. And it wasn't just me. Nice notes seemed to bring a real unity to the ward, partly because so many people were involved in this over-the-top weekly spectacle. Some people used their talents to teach us the Haka and Irish step-dancing; others contributed costumes or participated outright as characters in our skits. The volume of nice notes written each week increased, and everybody benefited. Reflecting on all that has happened in society over the past year, it seems like what we need right now is a chance to bring each other that same joy and unity while we’re rediscovering who we are as Americans and members of the human family. It may be a youthful college tradition, but perhaps nice notes are one solution to our very grown-up problems.