On Assholes and Being Nice

A couple of days back, I posted a quote by Aaron James on the definition of an asshole. The quote made sense to me, and I felt like sharing it with my FB friends. This led to an interesting discussion with Anu which started off with the need for gender neutral definitions and moved on to niceness. She mentioned that niceness and competence may not go hand in hand and niceness alone does not entitle one to finish first and that one should be nice as being nice is reward in itself. I mentioned that I would chose niceness over competence any day and then the discussion veered into why choose between the two.

I then realized that for me it had to go hand in hand, but in others I was more tolerant towards an absence of competence than an absence of niceness. I also mentioned that as long as there is no specific disadvantage of being nice then its ok not to have any advantage also. We discussed hiring candidates and how interviews can be manipulated by candidates. Anu, being Anu, and being fond of questions (she once had a blog post on it – you must read it – it will evoke images of a curious lil’ girl !) she asked me  what my definition of nice is and why I believed niceness cannot be taught or acquired. Now, that made me think…and hence this post!*

I thought long and hard on what exactly constitutes my definition of ‘being nice’ is…and here is what I arrived at. It is that quality which prevents you from stepping on someone else’s toes or walking over someone – no matter what the circumstance or reward is.

Let’s take this analogy of walking a lil’ further. Now, in life sometimes we walk in a large beach where there is enough room for everyone to stand and watch the sunset – being nice is relatively easy here. Only a sadist would close the eyes of others so that only he/she enjoys the vista.

Sometimes however, you have to pass through a one-(wo)man wide cave to arrive at the sunset. Time is running out and unless the queue moves forward fast enough you may not see the sunset. This is tricky. A lot of people may push forward. A nice person waits his turn patiently. He may also allow weaker members to move forward and help some of them who may not get another shot at seeing the sunset. The problem with being nice as a reward in itself, is that someone who is a jerk might push you down and walk over you. Too many jerks walking over you and you doing nothing – terms you a pushover. In my eyes, a nice guy(gal), would  probably try and carve out a new path through the rocks. Or decide to sacrifice that day’s sunset – painful, yet that’s what a nice person would do. And that’s why I want to believe that the nice guy still gets a better view of the sunset – someday! 

And I believe that while technical mastery uses your brain or muscle power, being nice is about how you define it for yourselves and if fundamentally you believe that being a jerk is ok, then it is far more difficult to change that – there are several euphemisms that help you to continue being a jerk and justify that behavior.

I am yet to come across a jerk who has transformed himself over time into a nice guy – whereas I have seen far more examples of improvement in competency. ‘Cos in the case of competency, the rewards are more instant and material – so maybe the motivation is higher? (I am not too sure of this one – in my eyes, being nice is non-negotiable)  This is not to say that I have always been nice in my life. But, every time I have not been nice, I have felt royally ashamed of myself! And in this journey towards perfection, one keeps striving!

* I am currently reading a book titled Mindset, which is making me question a lot of what I believe in. So maybe, I will completely change my view on this whole topic someday !


:) The nice girl/guy has to stand up for themselves and others, and that calls for attributes beyond the definition of 'nice'. If a nice person looks at injustice and stays quiet in order to be viewed as nice, he/she is no longer being nice. Also, while the nice person would choose to give up the view, looking at the same sunset on another day doesn't make the sunset better, or exclusive to him/her. As for carving out a new path, that makes the person creative or persistent rather than nice.
Tinkerbells said…
Anu, agreed fully - one should not stay quiet in the name of being nice - that is taking an 'I don't care' attitude or being meek. I guess what I meant was standing up for oneself can be done through creativity and persistence (and other qualities such as assertiveness) as you mention rather than by being a jerk. And I agree that just 'cos someone is nice, the sunset view need not be exclusive to him or a grander one than the one he missed. But, if he were to miss it totally 'cos he was nice, then that would be sad in my view !
You do make me realise that the brain is a muscle that needs exercise to stay fit :)

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