Do the Right Thing

Spirit, science, and health

What Ever Happened to Nice as a Virtue?

Does being nice matter anymore?

I don't know about you but I'm amazed at what seems to be considered as acceptable behavior out there. This is clearly seen among politicians during the recent GOP debates, celebrities of all types, and many others in the news. But it seems to be more and more true of people in general. Just ask anyone who works in customer services. Or just read the comment section in so many online news reports and articles (especially in the sports, politics, and entertainment sections). Rudeness, narcissism, entitlement, insults, aggressive acting out not only seems tolerated but often very much reinforced, supported, and encouraged. Whether it is how politicians treat each other or anyone who disagrees with them or so many others in the news such as Steve Jobs, Donald Trump, Bill O'Reilly, Simon Cowell, the cast of Jersey Shore, talk radio, and cable news, a lack of polite civility often rules the day. This has been true for a long time but it appears to be getting worse...perhaps much worse. So, what's going on? Whatever happened to the importance of being nice?

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What do we mean by nice anyway? I would suggest that being nice is being gracious, kind, polite, considerate, compassionate, and basically treating others as you wish to be treated. I would also suggest that to improve social relationships and create a better community and world we need to bring back nice as an expected virtue and stop reinforcing those who behave counter to this virtue. The squeaky wheel typically gets the grease as they say. Those who are demanding, entitled, aggressive, and insulting often seem to get their way much of the time. This needs to stop if we are going to bring back nice as an expected and valued virtue.

Typically we learn these skills when we are very young but somehow they get lost as we age in our current culture. Additionally, when we see people we admire behave in this way (and get what they want) they model behavior that others will quickly adopt. For example, here in the heart of Silicon Valley where I live and work, some famous and successful leaders known for being not so nice create an environment where others mimic their behavior. Some companies here are known for being nice while others....not so much. For example, two friends of mine who works at famous companies X and Y both told me this past weekend that the CEO of both companies had a way of creating other smaller clones of themselves and that their personality and way of being (which wasn't so nice according to both published and other reports) tended to rub off on many others under their influence. Both friends (who, by the way, are very high level executives making outstanding salaries) are looking for new jobs with other companies if they can find one for this reason alone. This isn't a surprise and can be expected given what we know about research on observational learning. Leaders set a tone that others follow. I'm afraid that this is likely true in so many other areas too, such as politics, news, sports, and so forth. 

So, what do you think? Should we bring nice back as an expected virtue? If so, how do we do it?  How can we change this trend?

Thomas Plante, PhD, ABPP, is the Augustin Cardinal Bea, SJ University Professor at Santa Clara University and Adjunct Clinical Professor of Psychiatry at Stanford University.

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