Trying To Be Nice
July 25, 2009 1:45 PM   Subscribe

A recent survey found that nice people are paid less. But as one Times reporter found, politeness can be its own reward.
posted by nam3d (37 comments total) 5 users marked this as a favorite
Judging by the article, the reward of politeness is smugness.
posted by nasreddin at 1:52 PM on July 25, 2009 [5 favorites]

I'd actually like to see the study, but the article was nice enough - for the British.
posted by Kimothy at 1:56 PM on July 25, 2009

1. "A recent survey found that nice people are paid less. But politeness can be its own reward."

2. Correlation does not equal causation.

3. Anecdote: I've met too many people who are frustrated with the pity rewards that come with being "nice."

4. The author doesn't make a distinction between being nice and being assertive, which are not mutually exclusive.
posted by Christ, what an asshole at 1:57 PM on July 25, 2009 [2 favorites]

Weak sauce, as the scientists at the 4C Research Institute would say.
posted by Foci for Analysis at 2:04 PM on July 25, 2009

asshole: while "nice" and "assertive" are not mutually exclusive, there still may likely be a correlation between non-assertive people and those found to be "nice," on average.
posted by Navelgazer at 2:10 PM on July 25, 2009 [1 favorite]

Linked to niceness and politeness in modern society, is a current BBC 2 series titled "The Death of Respect", asking what has happened to British values and behaviour over the last 50 years. Episode 1 on iPlayer here (UK only). A good watch, after reading a solitary news article...
posted by Petrot at 2:10 PM on July 25, 2009 [1 favorite]

Yeah the study wouldve been more interesting than cookie cutter op ed or whatever that was.
posted by norabarnacl3 at 2:19 PM on July 25, 2009 [1 favorite]

So that's why people become traffic clampers - the pay is through the roof.
posted by Elmore at 2:20 PM on July 25, 2009

In old societies, people were polite to each other because if they were not, there was always the possibility of getting into a duel. Or just getting killed.

As society becomes safer and more advanced, the lethality of rudeness is reduced, and thus the incidence of rudeness increases.
posted by delmoi at 2:29 PM on July 25, 2009 [18 favorites]

The guy did, what, about four "nice" things (which were actually just "not being a jerk")... and he's patting himself on the back....?

I believe that he might better look into the fact that the first thing his wife said was "... if I drank only at weekends, I would be much nicer to have around"

(is that a British thing " weekends" instead of "...on weekends"?)

His problems may run deeper than he thinks!
posted by HuronBob at 2:40 PM on July 25, 2009 [1 favorite]

You can be such a dick delmoi, but you may also be right.
posted by Samuel Farrow at 2:52 PM on July 25, 2009

I like to think of myself as a nice person, but I think it has more to do with me being a grad student.
posted by Midnight Rambler at 2:55 PM on July 25, 2009

What you need is and .
posted by Abiezer at 2:58 PM on July 25, 2009 [1 favorite]

But if I weren't grumpy, I'd have nothing to complain about!
posted by digsrus at 3:00 PM on July 25, 2009

This might be a good time to pull out the old Al Capone saw:

"You get more with a kind word and a gun than with a kind word alone."

I try to apply that to all aspects of my life.
posted by Shohn at 3:05 PM on July 25, 2009 [2 favorites]

As society becomes safer and more advanced, the lethality of rudeness is reduced, and thus the incidence of rudeness increases.

Yeah, well, fuck you.
posted by orthogonality at 3:08 PM on July 25, 2009

A recent survey found that nice people are paid less.

Fuck 'em.
posted by splatta at 3:11 PM on July 25, 2009 [1 favorite]

That guy is missing the whole point of being middle aged, which is that you don't have to be nice anymore. You're 45, 55 years old, you've put in your time being nice. You've got 20+ years of data showing you exactly what being nice gets you. In particular, you've got a hell of a good reason to be a prick in response to younger people acting like jerks. Young people better be fucking nice. How you could own popular culture, have a flat belly, a hairless back, the flexibilty to sit comfortably cross-legged, and no kids of your own out driving drunk with God knows who, and still be pissy, I have no idea. But you better stay off my fucking lawn, that's all I'll say.
posted by stupidsexyFlanders at 3:31 PM on July 25, 2009 [6 favorites]

According to a German study, you are more likely to be promoted if you are aggressive, single-minded and thoroughly unpleasant.

Well, there you go.
posted by Iridic at 3:32 PM on July 25, 2009 [5 favorites]

Professor Layton is my archetype for the nice man. When I find myself about to crack a little, I think about what Professor Layton would do.
posted by 517 at 3:50 PM on July 25, 2009 [4 favorites]

I'm a bitch on wheels and I'm fabulously well-to-do.
posted by scratch at 3:52 PM on July 25, 2009

Cliffs Notes Version: Assertive people make more money. Full stop. And some--not all—but some--assertive people are total jagoffs.
posted by applemeat at 4:06 PM on July 25, 2009

But you still need to be polite to members of the Cambridge Police Department. Or else.
posted by wendell at 4:40 PM on July 25, 2009 [3 favorites]

In old societies, people were polite to each other their "betters" because if they were not, there was always the possibility of getting into a duel. Or just getting killed.

As society becomes safer and more advanced, the lethality onesidedness of rudeness is reduced, and thus the incidence of rudeness increases, but not necessarily the total amount.

posted by DU at 4:48 PM on July 25, 2009 [2 favorites]

Also, of course people who are unpleasant are paid more. That's because people who value money over humanity are unpleasant.
posted by DU at 4:49 PM on July 25, 2009 [6 favorites]

Anecdote time: I'm a nice guy. Really, really nice. So nice that I shit gumdrops and pee lemonade. (I've had this checked out by a doctor and I'm not diabetic, ok?)

So at my previous job I was getting pushed around like all hell. The boss actually ended up using me as his personal chauffer at times (Oh, you're clocking out in ten minutes? Hey could you go pick up the Boss at Worksite B? His wife has the car today and he needs a lift to the store. Thx.)

Eventually one of my coworkers saw what was going on and coached me to put a stop to it. "You have got to be an asshole to these people", he said, "thats the only way you'll make it in life. By being a jerk. By not caring what anybody thinks of you. By actively cultivating an aura of malignant uncaringness."

"But I'll get fired if I do that!" I said.

"You're going to get fired eventually," he said, "everybody gets fired eventually. Everybody get's fired or laid off or quits eventually. This isn't Japan. The boss would make you work for free if he could. The company is your enemy. Your coworkers are your enemies. The jerks know that. Thats why they don't care. And they are actually less likely to get fired because the boss knows they don't care."

"Ok I'll give it a try." I said.

The next day rolls around. "Oh hai Avenger, go ahead and take time out from your important job to hang christmas decorations around the office."

"Uh, no." I said.



"Did you say NO?"

"Yeah I'm busy right now ask somebody else."

"Are you REFUSING AN ORDER?!?!?"

"No I'm just busy right now. Tell Steve to do it. He's useless."


Instantly after that incident, the chauffer trips and christmas-decorations ground to a sudden halt. They no longer asked me to do busy work or useless shit that even a monkey could do. I went from being the nice go-to guy to being the mean, evil assholish jerk overnight -- and I got treated so much better for it.

I'm Swedish. This kind of behavior wouldn't fly in Sweden. Coming from a community-oriented culture means that you're supposed to give your all for everyone else (being "nice") in exchange for the community taking care of you and looking out for your best interests. In that kind of culture, (which I still personally think is superior in alot of ways), being a backstabbing asshole is basically the evquivalent to being a murderer or a child molester. It a crime that strikes at the very heart of the social order.

In a culture like America's (or Britiain's, I guess), where the community is largely a means to an end (the end being your personal success) it makes sense that those who are able to manipulate the community the most while not sacrificing as much would rise to the top and get what they want most often. Of course, this kind of thing only works insofar as there is a community composed of largely nice folks who are trying to cooperate with one another. As the assholish behavior becomes more entrenched, the "nice" community beings to dissolve and things start to become the fabled warre of all against all. (I wonder if my power-play would have worked, for example, if I didn't have a "Steve" to shirk my duities onto?)

Also, see: Nigeria.
posted by Avenger at 4:56 PM on July 25, 2009 [34 favorites]

This article annoyed me, because it's kind of a "no shit, Sherlock" concept. Attitudes are infectious, so if you're nice, then people will typicall return your pleasantness.

The writer didn't help much either. "Instead of yelling at someone, I made a joke, and now I can see colors!" Come on. You're hardly starting a revolution here.
posted by Turkey Glue at 5:03 PM on July 25, 2009

stupidsexyFlanders: you're missing out on the absolute, ethereal joy you can get from being nice and polite to them. Joy that is based on the sudden look of confusion on their precious little faces, and enhanced by the knowledge of the disruptive cognitive dissonance going on inside their sweet little heads.

Bless 'em.
posted by Pinback at 7:31 PM on July 25, 2009 [1 favorite]

I'm generally polite, as long as folks are polite in return. I haven't noticed it getting me anything, or costing me anything either. Being KIND has worked out great for me though. I can clearly trace a path of events starting with me writing a resume for a friend and really giving it my all, to now where as a result of that and some intervening events, I'm now about one hundred thousand dollars ahead. Seriously! It's a long chain of positive karma bouncing back and forth between me and that friend, over quite a few years, and we've both benefited greatly.

I like being spontaneously, shockingly kind from time to time too. The last time I was at Wal-Mart, there was an older black woman ahead of me, buying some meager groceries and some cat food. When I saw what her bill was, I gave her a smile, told her I'd get it and she could pass it along to someone else if she got the chance, and handed the cashier enough to pay for her stuff. She gave me a quick suspicious look, like, what am I getting out of this? But it was just a flash, because she could see I was just doing a good deed. It is kinda sad that the first look I saw in her eyes was suspicion though, but I guess that's the world we live in.
posted by jamstigator at 7:33 PM on July 25, 2009

Since we're all anecdoting anyway....

I'm more interested in being an ethical and compassionate* person than a nice one. Raised Baptist and female in the South, I have to actually fight not to be nice in the "doormat" sense, as being a nice doormat just makes people happier to walk on you.

And the wonderful thing about aging is exactly what he's bemoaning--grumpiness is expected. I give much less of a shit whether someone thinks I'm nice than I did at 20. And so have much more fun.

I believe it was Florence King who noted that misanthropists are often very formally polite, because it's a way of getting people to leave you the hell alone and keep them out of your personal business. I can relate to this. I do not want to have long heated discussions with random people, so I don't pick fights. Except for the one time the car dealership tried to sell me a defective car and claimed they wouldn't take it back, despite state lemon laws. I still don't remember what I said to that guy, but he cancelled the car note in record time. That was when I really began to understand that sometimes, you have to be an asshole.

*not that I succeed at this as much as I should.
posted by emjaybee at 7:53 PM on July 25, 2009 [2 favorites]

To sidetrack (but not really) for a moment, I'd like to comment on Abiezer's excellent links - specifically this part:

Confucious replied, "Respect, tolerance, living up to one's word, diligence, and generosity."

One word that I think encompasses all those words is integrity. But for me "integrity" also goes a step beyond those words by implying that someone with integrity applies those very same attitudes of respect, generosity, etc. to oneself as well. That means, among other things, that you do what's right, including standing up for yourself when that's the right thing to do. Doesn't mean you have to be a jerk about it, and doesn't rule out flat-out kindness either as jamstigator points out, just that you firmly and fairly stick by your principles (including respect, tolerance, generosity, etc. toward others) and refuse to do things that would violate your integrity - things such as allowing anyone to take unfair advantage of you (i.e. being "nice" as this thread's working definition would have it). Certainly that would be the embodiment of "authoritative humanity", wouldn't it?

Now...whether that results in higher pay is, to say the least, a bit complicated and tricky. But in my own experience, my effort to act with integrity as much as possible has resulted in being happier in the long run regardless of salary (though I feel like such behavior has been a factor in getting better and better-paying jobs, among other things). Yin/yang, what goes around comes around, and all that.
posted by Greg_Ace at 8:03 PM on July 25, 2009

Really Nice Movement is a terrible idea for MetaFilter! Where would we be without snark? Nad who among us does not enjoy a massive flame war?
posted by Cranberry at 8:20 PM on July 25, 2009

Nad is the new and. Slinks away
posted by Cranberry at 8:21 PM on July 25, 2009

My feeling about the author of this article.
posted by louigi at 9:19 PM on July 25, 2009

I have to actually fight not to be nice in the "doormat" sense, as being a nice doormat just makes people happier to walk on you.

This is one of two problems I have with the construction of niceness - I've always found it to be remarkably gendered. The other is ingroup/outgroup nonsense. My brother* lives in Minneapolis and seethes about "Minnesota nice." He correctly identifies it as one of a number of mechanisms to deflect or dismiss very certain types of behavior that challenges dominant classes. To be nice is to not rock the boat. It's reminiscant of this comment by BitterOldPunk. Very specifically, nice people don't talk about racism in Minnesota, because that makes people uncomfortable. Of course, it goes without saying that niceness is intertwined with Whiteness to many in the upper Midwest. It's not that only White people are nice, but that when non-White people are acting "nice" they are more often than not conforming to an expected behavior created by White people. Nice people don't talk about those kinds of things; it's not polite.

I know that Minnesota Nice is its own weird world. Hell, I just checked and it has its own Wikipedia entry. Still, some of my favorite people are deeply compassionate, caring, and big-hearted to everyone they know; they are good listeners and patient with others. I'm not sure if I'd call them nice, because they are willing to confront attitudes that they find problematic, even if that makes others uncomfortable. Sometimes it feels like nice people don't do that. I hope to be more like the people I just described; I'm not sure if I want to be nice, at least as it's sometimes constructed.

*I gave him a MeFi account but he doesn't use it anymore :( That's not nice.
posted by allen.spaulding at 9:43 PM on July 25, 2009 [1 favorite]

"Nice" is a cookie made by Peak Freans, and as such a useless word to throw around in mixed company.

"Pleasant" on the other hand actually means something. We should all endeavor to be pleasant as the means are the end.
posted by philip-random at 11:34 PM on July 25, 2009 [1 favorite]

Peak Freans would be a great name for a Thomas Pynchon character.
posted by stavrosthewonderchicken at 4:39 PM on July 26, 2009

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