We currently live in distressing times where so many people seem polarized and are quick to express their outrage and disdain for others. Certainly our politicians, as well as many cable news and talk radio programs, reinforce this way of behaving towards others. It has gotten so bad that many news and information outlets, including many fellow Psychology Today bloggers, have felt the need to disable the comments section of their posts and articles to eliminate the vitriol that is so common today.
People certainly seem to have strong opinions and they are not shy about expressing them with vigor. However, regardless of one’s point of view, refusing to treat others with respect and civility becomes a toxic virus that can spread easily. Research conducted by my colleague, Christine Porath from Georgetown University regarding incivility clearly demonstrates that there are many negative consequences to living in a disrespectful and uncivil environment (see her terrific TEDx talk about this topic here). In the work community, employee turnover, absenteeism, disengagement, poor judgement and decision making, and even physical and mental health problems are closely associated with workplace incivility.
Yet, people long for niceness. Nice, as defined by Dictonary.com, means “pleasing, agreeable, delightful, amiably pleasant, (and) kind.” Think about it. When you meet someone, you make a fairly quick judgement about them often referring to them as being nice or not. When you talk about a person with others so often they want to know if the person was or is “nice” or not. And typically, when anyone meets a celebrity or someone perceived to be famous or important the first question people will typically ask about the encounter is, “Were they nice?”
Nice matters, and perhaps now more than ever. Focusing on being nice is important but seems very hard to do in current times. My good friend and colleague, Mark Ravizza, SJ, a Jesuit priest and philosophy professor at Santa Clara University, during a recent campus lecture, offered three helpful Ignatian informed strategies to keep in mind while having challenging conversations that I’ll repeat here. His suggestion was to first try and accommodate others by putting yourself in their skin to better understand, appreciate, and connect with their experience of the world. Second, he suggests approaching conversations with humility acknowledging that you may not have all the answers or the corner on the truth. And finally, expect goodness in others, anticipating them to ultimately want to work towards the common good with good intentions. If we try to embrace accommodation, humility, and goodness in our interactions with others, being nice will likely quickly follow.
Being nice also has many positive benefits in that not only will you be more liked but trusted and respected, too. So, give niceness a chance. Let's bring it back in fashion. We need it! And perhaps it can act like a positive and healthy virus that will spread far and wide in our currently toxic environment.
So, what do you think?
Copyright 2018, Thomas G. Plante, PhD, ABPP