Let me start by putting everyone’s concerns to rest. This post is not a means of exposing personal anger or displeasure. The extent to which this applies to my own life may or may not be obvious to those who know me best, but either way it is of little consequence. The initial question, does it pay to be nice, is in itself somewhat of a loaded question.
Looking at it from a completely literal standpoint, to imply that it pays to be nice may send a message that there can be monetary value attached to nice behavior. The best way to put that to rest is by reminding everyone that given a choice, people will not part with their money. This means that the aspect that makes someone nice is the fact that they are giving with no demand for compensation of any sort and subsequently people will not generally provide payment if they can avoid doing so.
But let’s be honest. When people say, “it doesn’t pay to be nice”, they more often than not are referring to rewards other than financial ones. Will they get the desired result from being nice? Will they reap emotional or practical benefit? Will they strengthen a relationship? The core of this question may go the honest intention of the person being nice and what being nice actually and truly means.
Why do we do things for others? Is it to make ourselves feel good or to make others feel good or gain benefit? If we are to say that the one reward we are looking for is that good feeling generated by our niceness and the reaction it generates, is the act no longer selfless? Is it indeed a very basic example of selfishness at its core, albeit in its most honest form, a concept often stated in the writings of Ayn Rand. This leads to the next question. If one is being nice for their own sake rather than for the sake of others, are they indeed being nice or are they being self-serving?
I think that too often people try to redefine or even worse, recreate human nature. People need motivation, and even the kindest of people generally do things for the pleasure they receive in providing a kindness. There may be those on the highest religious level who do things solely because they think it is God’s will, but even these people, assuming they are being totally sincere, are doing so to get in the good graces of a higher power. In other words, they do so to benefit on some level.
What it ultimately comes down to is expectation. If ones expectation is their own personal feeling and the reward that provides, being nice will more than likely payoff for them. If however their reward is contingent on a person’s response, their reward is anything but a certainty.
The next issue needed to be addressed is the distinction between nice and good. Leo Durocher was famous for saying, “nice guys finish last”. Does that mean Durocher was preaching bad behavior? Absolutely not. There is a difference between good and bad, even if everyone does not agree what actions belong in each category. However a person can be good without being nice. Good deeds and correct actions are not contingent on nice overtures. Some of the best people you can ever meet, and by best I mean rich in goodness, may very well be people whose words and mannerisms are not what we would consider nice. I can make a very strong argument that given a choice between someone who is good and someone who is nice, we have more to gain by surrounding ourselves with someone who is good. Even though nice and good are not mutually exclusive.
So why do I believe people won’t read this? I don’t know that I do. But if putting that in the title got you to this point in the article, I’m glad I misspoke and want to thank you for being nice enough to read what I wrote. Hopefully you gained some benefit from my words and my appreciation is all the payment you required.