Wednesday, August 10, 2011

The Power of Nice

Shouldn’t it be self-evident? We should know by now that we feel less stress when we are interacting with nice people. Surely we know that less stress means better health, and not just the mental kind.

Those who spend the better part of their waking hours at work would improve their lives and become more productive if they were surrounded by niceness.

If you want some more niceness in your life, try being nice to other people. It’s a start.

If the point were as self-evident as I think it should be, researchers in Tel Aviv would not have spend twenty years studying it. Link here.

Their conclusion: if you are surrounded by nice people, people who are easy to get along with, you will live longer.

Why is it necessary to provide scientific results to prove something that everyone should know already?

Perhaps because everyone does not know it.

How many people believe as an article of faith that they should give their emotions free reign and free expression?

Considering that our therapy culture tells us that we must express all of our feelings all the time, it should not be too surprising that people who have been fed the mother’s milk of that culture should behave like pompous boors and drama queens, on a regular basis.

If you are working in an office full of such individuals, you are likely to feel assailed and assaulted and stressed out by the need to play different roles in multiple psychodramas.

It is not easy to do your job and to receive the normal satisfaction that comes from doing your job, when you are constantly being drawn into a dozen mindless psychodramas.

If you were tempted to let it all hang out at the office, the research is here to tell you that if you are nice you will live to be 112.

I hope that that sounds like a sufficient incentive. But isn‘t it strange to think that the best way to convince people not to be nice is to dangle the prospect of longevity before them?

Back in the old days, when people got their ethical principles from religion and philosophy, they were also told, precisely, to be nice to other people.

Like it or not, but religions are communities, and communities cannot function if people are not nice to each other.

Even if you take elementary rules like: Do unto others as you would have others do unto you, or else, love your neighbor as yourself… you can see that following those rules will make you nice.

Of course, the rules do not just apply to your relationships with your co-religionists. They say that you should do unto “others,” and those others might very well not belong to the same religion as you do.

What incentive does religion give you for following these rules? It doesn’t promise that you are going to live to be 112.

Actually, it tells you that being nice will give you a better chance of living forever. Religions do not promise longevity, because, after all, in the long run how much does it matter whether you live to 108 or 112 or 133.

Do you really think that Social Security and Medicare will still be solvent when your reach the ripe old age of 124.

What matters is what happens after, as Hamlet said, you “shuffle off this mortal coil?”

And there religion will always one-up science. Long life can never compete with eternal life.


David Foster said...

Niceness is important..I agree that obnoxious and even toxic behavior can quickly sap the productivity and spirit of an organization. But sometimes, too much focus on people being inoffensive & fitting in can mean not taking advantage of important talents.

Again, Peter Drucker:

"In every successful organization there is one boss who does not like people, does not help them, does not get along with them. Cold, unpleasant, demanding, he often teaches and develops more men than anyone else. He commands more respect than the most likeable man ever could. He demands exacting workmanship of himself as well as of his men. He sets high standards and expects that they will be lived up to. He considers only what is right and never who is right. And, though usually himself a man of brilliance, he never rates intellectual brilliance above integrity in others."

Stuart Schneiderman said...

Excellent point... I think that the research was pointing to interactions among co-workers. It should have had something to say about leadership, as you and Drucker do. Is that kind of boss something like the unmoved mover?

David Foster said...

Continuing on the limits of niceness...I recently read a biography of General Bernard Schriever, who ran the US ballistic missile program. One of his subordinates was Colonel Ed Hall, a brilliant designer of rocket engines, a hard-driving project, manager and, in the eyes of many who worked with him, a complete jackass. As the Thor missile approached the deployment phase, Schriever had to pull Hall out of the project management job because he was pissing off everyone in sight. However, he recognized Hall's value and assigned him to the study of solid-fuel rockets, resulting in the Minuteman missile, whose development Hall directed. Once again, Schriever had to take the project away from Hall as it approached success, something for which Hall never forgave him.

Generally, it is best not to tolerate obnoxious people and prima donnas, especially in management positions, but there are cases where exceptions need to be made...and then closely watched. It sounds to me like Gen Schriever handled to Hall case just about right.

The book is Neil Sheehan's "A Fiery Peace" said...

In my view one and all may read this.