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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.
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.
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.
“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 Adler