Why Nice People Aren't That Nice

Despite the social approval you might receive, being nice is the worst.

I hate nice people. They are too polite to mention you have toilet paper stuck to your shoe, they always agree with the prevailing opinion, and they often do things they don't like because they can't say "no."

And that's their main flaw - nice people are too damn agreeable.

Source

The Milgram Experiment and the Banality of Evil

Remember the Milgram experiment? It showed that most good-natured people are conditioned to obey authority, even when asked to carry out horrendous deeds.

The controversial Milgram experiment was conducted in the 1960s in the aftermath of the atrocities of the World War II. Yale psychologist Stanley Milgram wanted to understand what made nice law-abiding citizens participate in the crimes of the Nazi regime, or at the very least turn a blind eye to it.

The design of the experiment was genius in its cruelty and simplicity: a participant ("teacher") thinks that he is taking part in a study on memory and learning, when in fact the subject of the study is obedience to authority. He is told to ask another participant ("learner") a series of questions, and when the learner gets the question wrong, to administer a mild (15v) electric shock to him. As the study progresses and the learner gets more questions wrong, the teacher is asked to increase the voltage, up to the point of maximum shock (450v) which is lethal for a human being.

Ignoring screams and pleas for mercy, most people go on up to the point of maximum shock (450v).
Ignoring screams and pleas for mercy, most people go on up to the point of maximum shock (450v). | Source

The voltage increases, and the learner starts exhibiting real discomfort, from distressed grunts to agonizing screams. He cries out in pain and pleads to be released. He complains of the chest pain. Finally, after another severe voltage shock, the learner's lifeless body no longer makes a sound.

Of course, no researcher would be able to conduct this sort of experiment in its pure form, so the shocks weren't real and the learner was an actor simulating being electrocuted. The actual reason behind the experiment was to see how far people will go to obey the orders that conflict with their consciousness before refusing to go on.

Turns out, pretty far!

The real shocker of the experiment were the results: 65 percent of the participants administered the lethal dose, although under protest. And if you're thinking: these people were probably sadistic psychopaths, think again. Milgram methodically chose his subjects on the basis of their total "normalcy." These were "ordinary people drawn from working, managerial, and professional classes."

"A nice person is a 'yes' person, whereas a good person is a person who accepts their responsibility in things and moves forward and tries to constantly evolve and isn't afraid to say no or challenge someone or be honest or truthful." ~ Miranda Kerr

Nice People are Too Eager to Please

A recent (2014) study published in the Journal of Personality echoes Milgram's findings, but it goes even further: it suggests that people whose personality could be described as nice or friendly (those who score high on Conscientiousness and Agreeableness traits) are more likely to follow orders that hurt others than those who can be described as rebellious or antisocial.

That's because nice people want to be nice. They avoid any kind of conflict, even if it means compromising on their beliefs. They're afraid of being considered rude, or of causing awkwardness. In other words, nice people are too concerned about what people think of them, so their first impulse is to please.

In the Milgram experiment many participants felt extremely uncomfortable about having to administer electroshocks and wanted to stop, but they rationalized it by telling themselves that it would be rude to disrupt the study, that they would be letting the scientists down, that they've made a promise, and that at the end of the day, they're not responsible because they're just doing what they're told.

"Niceness" is merely an adaptive mechanism to get the things we desire most: love, acceptance and social approval.
"Niceness" is merely an adaptive mechanism to get the things we desire most: love, acceptance and social approval. | Source

“Being nice merely to be liked in return nullifies the point.” ― Criss Jami, Killosophy

Being Nice vs. Being Real

A common misconception about nice people is that they are inherently good and everyone should try to be "nice." When our children misbehave, we say: "Be nice!"

But what exactly are we telling them?

To do everything they are "supposed" to do? To never question authority? To believe everything they're told? To swallow their feelings? To fit in at any cost, otherwise they won't be loved and accepted?

They say: "Nice guys finish last," the idea being that the jerks of the world always beat the good guys to it. Women with a fatal attraction to "bad boys" lament their fate, wishing they could fall for a "nice guy" who can treat them right. But when these yes-men show up and start showering them with affection, they walk all over them, and then run back to their abusive bad boys.

That's because there is a sizable difference between being nice and being real, and especially being kind. Women (and men for that matter) subconsciously feel that nice guys aren't really nice. They just think that if they do what they're supposed to (be nice to you), you will like them. Their "niceness" is merely an adaptive mechanism to get the things they desire most: love, acceptance and social approval.

Deep down, nice people lack the courage and the self-respect to be honest about who they are, and to stand up for what they believe in. Their desire to please and to fit in overshadows their desire to be authentic, which leads to dangerous repercussions.

Whether it's administering electroshock to an unwilling "learner" because a man in a white lab coat told you so, or marching thousands of people into the ovens of Auschwitz because that's your job, or blindly emanating the cultural norms you grew up with without ever questioning their validity, being nice can be a real Achilles heel when it comes to choosing between what's right and what's expected of you.

The mechanisms that make good people do bad things

The real story behind the Milgram experiment and its startling repercussions

© 2016 Lana Zakinov

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Comments 18 comments

Buildreps profile image

Buildreps 5 months ago from Europe

I agree with you. Nice people aren't often themselves and are therefore more agreeable to follow perverse orders. Good subject. We need more people who are actually themselves, and not directly unkind. :)


kalinin1158 profile image

kalinin1158 5 months ago from California Author

Yes! Being nice is totally overrated :)


RachaelLefler profile image

RachaelLefler 5 months ago from Illinois

Interesting. I think you touched on something when you said "That's because there is a sizable difference between being nice and being real, and especially being kind. ". Reminds me of the movie Pleasantville. The people in the 50's sitcom world are "nice" but they're missing out on so many enjoyable aspects of life because they're afraid of change.


MizBejabbers profile image

MizBejabbers 5 months ago from Arkansas

I vaguely remember reading about the Milgram Experiment, but I'd forgotten what it was called. The experiment itself was kind of sadistic, don't you think? The "nice" guys and gals in our office are the ones we've learned will be the first to backstab. The niceness is just a facade for the real evil behind the smile. Unfortunately, our management has bought their act. You have some very good points.


DGill 5 months ago

The label "Nice People" is too vague. There are lots of "Nice People" who don't posses the sort of obedience to authority that would allow them to willingly commit atrocities.


kalinin1158 profile image

kalinin1158 5 months ago from California Author

Yes! That's a great point, Rachel. The people in the movie are "nice," but they're sort of plastic, and what's worse, they have a mob mentality... I think we need rebels and even antisocial people, because when everyone's nice, the society becomes stagnant and, to use the movie metaphor, black and white, colorless.


kalinin1158 profile image

kalinin1158 5 months ago from California Author

Thank you MizBejabbers! I agree, the experiment itself was sort of sadistic. These people, the participants, had no idea about the kind of experiment they're taking part in. They went through some terrible stress and agony. I've also read that many of them weren't told that they weren't really shocking a person immediately after the experiment. Some of them lived with a knowledge they killed someone for over a year!

It's definitely an unethical experiment by today's standards, but it made history, and made people aware of how susceptible we are to the influence of an authority. Thanks for stopping by!


kalinin1158 profile image

kalinin1158 5 months ago from California Author

DGill, I agree that the term "nice people" is vague - I guess one way to define it is: those who score high on Conscientiousness and Agreeableness traits.

Of course, I'm not suggesting that everyone with those traits would obey authority to commit heinous acts, and neither are the results of these experiments. Significant number of people refused to obey the orders, but the majority went along...I think it's a tendency that we should all be aware of.


fpherj48 profile image

fpherj48 5 months ago from Beautiful Upstate New York

Lana...I have to confess, at first I thought I was about to read a humorous story because your remark about the "toilet paper" made me laugh out loud. I've been there! LOL

Well, I soon realized this is a serious topic. I am quite familiar with the Milgram experiment. In fact, I did view a video that I believe was a re-enactment of this experiment. I also think there may have been a hub on our site regarding this that I read quite some time ago.

In any event, I recall my horror, Lana. I believe I even spoke out loud while watching, telling the participant not to hit the button! This sort of experiment has to make us be introspective and question ourselves. I was 100% convinced that under no circumstances whatsoever could I nor would I have just blindly followed direction/OBEYED. Absolutely not.

I also recall feeling as though those who obeyed the Nazi orders to inflict atrocities were of course extremely frightened individuals. They feared for their own lives & those of their loved ones. Add to that the fact that they were all mentally & physically drained and probably malnourished & starving. Fierce oppression can make a person nearly insane.

You are correct Lana. "Nice" (obedient & subservient) are not always what they seem. Give me a person of strength & purpose who knows the stark difference between right & wrong and will stand up for their convictions!.

You are a very talented writer. Peace, Paula


kalinin1158 profile image

kalinin1158 5 months ago from California Author

Paula...thanks so much for the thoughtful comment! I also have to confess that I wasn't sure about where you were going until I read to the end, and then I realized you really spent some time contemplating this issue.

The experiment was horrific, for sure. If it had taken place today, the researcher and the university would have been sued. And the results...are still debated. It seems that the 65% result that Milgram claimed was true only when the "authority" person was right there in the room with the participant. If he wasn't there physically, the numbers of people hitting that button dropped dramatically, which is also smth to think about.

Thanks again for stopping by!


Larry Rankin profile image

Larry Rankin 5 months ago from Oklahoma

Interesting perspective, lol. If we're too nice sometimes it is confusing.


Mel Carriere profile image

Mel Carriere 5 months ago from San Diego California

I've always gotten along well with people others considered jerks, because I trusted them. On the other hand, there have been some real syrupy sweethearts who have stabbed me in the back. I'll risk the grouchy old cynical jerk any day. Wait - I just described myself! Hope budding motherhood is going well for you.


kalinin1158 profile image

kalinin1158 5 months ago from California Author

Thank you Larry. Too nice isn't as nice as people think, it turns out.


kalinin1158 profile image

kalinin1158 5 months ago from California Author

Lol Mel, you're too hard on yourself. I know you as a kind man to all creatures, big and very very small. Like troll size ;-) Budding motherhood is pretty awesome, now that the morning sickness is well behind me, thanks :)


Mel Carriere profile image

Mel Carriere 5 months ago from San Diego California

My wife's morning sickness with the first baby was legendary - she withered away to about 90 pounds. Glad you are over that. Thanks for saying kind, and not nice. There's a big difference.


sunitibahl9 profile image

sunitibahl9 5 months ago from India

I so completely agree to this hub, I somehow found this read was about me. I have been a person all through who puts myself in burden just to please others. What the biggest weakness in me is that I can't say, "no" not because I do not want to but because I think too much, what comes to my mind is,, what impression of mine would it put on him or how would I feel if someone were to say no to me. This actually makes me be what I really am not. Anyone can take benefits by being polite to me. A single polite word from others makes me forget what they did earlier and I again go forward to help them.

This is actually wrong as it impacts my well being and health. I feel stressed and keep thinking why the other person behaved in a certain way when I was good to them and it has costed me a lot in terms of medical bills. I am happy to know there are many people who are like me, but it is the time to change and at least I have tried to cut down on the no. of people I interact with as I know they surround me only to fulfill their selfish motives. I have started to getting more in contact with people who have been with me during the hard times and have supported me always. It is an ideal way to stay positive and feel loved and wanted,, because doing favors for the ones who care is worthwhile!


kalinin1158 profile image

kalinin1158 5 months ago from California Author

Hi Suni! I'm glad this hub spoke to you, and that you're taking steps to create a healthier environment for yourself. In many ways I relate to this too, because I find it hard to say no to people, or to be rude. We're all conditioned to be "nice," and we need to consciously make an effort to break that mold. Thanks for reading!


kalinin1158 profile image

kalinin1158 5 months ago from California Author

Mel, I would never call you nice! That's like an insult. I try not to use the word at all, to describe anything.

My god, that bad, huh? I didn't lose weight but I was nauseous every second of waking life. It was miserable, when nothing tastes or smells good, you're exhausted and achy, and you're supposed to keep it all a secret cause it's not time to tell yet. Fun times :)

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