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Paradox25's avatar

Do you think that people who are too nice are actually selfish?

Asked by Paradox25 (10196points) May 22nd, 2012

According to this article, and many others, people who tend to be too nice are really ‘people pleasers’, not good people. Allegedly the act behind people pleasing is built from selfish characteristics, not good ones. What do you think? (Please read the brief article first before responding).

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30 Answers

Simone_De_Beauvoir's avatar

No, I think they’re either one-dimensional, dishonest or privileged.

ragingloli's avatar

Fundamentally, almost all actions are done for ultimately selfish reasons.

King_Pariah's avatar

I think this may be one of the few times I agree with @ragingloli

dontmindme's avatar

people who tend to be too nice are really ‘people pleasers’, not good people.

I disagree with this statement. I would consider myself nice. It’s in my nature. I have a hard time understanding how some people can be rude or mean to others. But I also agree with @ragingloli.

syz's avatar

What does it matter, if the end result is positive?

wundayatta's avatar

Too nice? They are no more selfish than anyone else. They are pursuing their own needs as much as anyone else is. This is like the altruism debate—is altruism selfish? I think it makes sense to realize that by doing for others, you do gain a lot, especially in terms of reputation. But I don’t think this diminishes what you do for others.

I don’t know what “too” nice means. Who is measuring how nice is too nice?

There are people who seem too nice to me. They seem fake sometimes. I don’t know if I really believe they mean what they say. I am careful around these people.

There are people who are too enthusiastic for my taste, as well. I don’t trust them, either. I don’t believe it is possible to be that enthusiastic without trying to hide something. I wonder what they are trying to cover over.

Niceness is as niceness does. I like people to be balanced. Give enough to others to show you care and need others. Don’t give so much that it looks like you are unbalanced and insecure and don’t know where to stop. Don’t give so little that it looks like you don’t understand how your fate is tied up together with everyone else’s.

If you’re too mean or too nice, then I am wary. I wonder what is making you act this way. I don’t know if I can trust you. But selfishness is actually not all that big a concern of mine. I like selfishness. It works.

josie's avatar

Since when is self interest not good. Unless it results in harming others, what is the problem?
As a personal aside, most people regard me as a very nice guy. And people seem to appreciate it, not be suspicious of it.

Charles's avatar

I trust a jerk, an honest jerk though, more than I trust a phoney baloney who fakes nice.

jax1311's avatar

I think that most of these debates result from a failure to distinguish between selfishness and self interest. Self interest is “a concern for one’s own advantage and well-being” Merriam-Webster. Selfish is defined as “overly concerned with one’s own desires, needs, or interests” Merriam-Webster. The key distinction being OVERLY in the definition of selfish.

Of course there is an aspect of self interest in any action that someone takes, including charitable/altruistic actions. However, simply because a person is undertaking an act in part because of their own self interest does not mean that it is a result of them being overly concerned with themselves (i.e., selfish).

As a broad generalization, yes people who are always “nice” are self interested, but so is everyone, regardless of whether they are “nice.” However, I think it would be unfair to consider everyone who is nice selfish.

Neizvestnaya's avatar

I believe the people you think are “too nice” are probably people pleasers but I don’t believe they are “bad” people. At worst, they might be driven by insecurity?

rebbel's avatar

I am (a) nice (guy), and yes, I am pleased to please others, sometimes also because there can be something in it for me.
But that that would make me “not good people”?
Baloney.

Neizvestnaya's avatar

This smacks of animalistic mentality that if something is not challenging or snarky then it must be weak and worthy of contempt.

ucme's avatar

This is one of those situations where overthinking simplistic actions leads to psychobabble.
Face value is the way to go, for me anyway.

linguaphile's avatar

I’m naturally nice to others because I genuinely like people and interacting with others—and that makes me a bad person? Not every nice person is a people pleaser. The author’s referring to people who are nice at the expense of their own selves- doormats so to speak – and saying all nice people are like that is overgeneralizing.

I don’t like Gavin de Becker’s theories— he is very black/white in his reasoning. He makes some good points, but I think his overall theories come from one world-view and he thinks he’s right. There’s no ONE right world-view, but a variety and a range.

I like to see people happy and satisfied and if I can provide that without being detrimental to myself, then great! What I think is ‘evil’ is nicety that’s forced on others regardless of their desires. That is wrong, but genuine friendliness, social ability, interest and concern for others is nice and there’s nothing wrong with that.

People-pleasing, in my honest opinion, is one survival strategy that can develop from being abused while growing up. Most people-pleasers I know are people who were abused by someone in their family while they were children, and they learn to negotiate their way around others to survive. The article vilifies that survival strategy that kept them alive and protected. For those people who use people-pleasing to survive… this article’s like “Let’s kill the victim while we’re at it, why don’t we…”

No, I do not like the article at all. The author has good points—but could use an improvement in word choices. Some of the word choices come across as judgmental and condescending.

cookieman's avatar

Well there’s ”nice”, and then there’s Michelle Duggar ”niiiiiicceee”.

Coloma's avatar

No. I think there are a lot of nice people that don’t have hidden agendas, but…I have known some very martyred and unhealthy codependent “giving” types that would swear to their dying breath how selfless they are when in reality they are completely delusional about how self serving they really are.
A dead give away is someone who has to constantly recite how “giving” they are, no good deed goes unmentioned, ever. lol

A lot of what some unhealthy types call “giving” is really about their need to be needed and to be “seen” as some sort of saintly type to puff up their own low self esteem. Gag!
There’s a saying I like that says ” Help is the sunny side of control.”
Healthy giving doesn’t come with strings attached, it comes from a genuine desire to make someone elses life a little happier or a little easier, not to keep a score card to be leveraged through future guilt tripping and manipulative self serving agendas.

LostInParadise's avatar

At each instance we do what we find most pleasing. In that sense, we could all be considered selfish, and the word would lose its meaning.

There is a big difference between doing things to please others and doing what you consider is the right thing simply because you think it is the right thing, even if it means incurring the wrath of others.

Coloma's avatar

I practiced an exercise for several years at one point constantly asking myself what my intentions were in any given moment, interaction, etc. VERY revealing. I believe in striving to be as authentic as possible and it’s amazing when you ask yourself this question and get tuned into your inner motives.

Something as simple as picking up the phone to call a friend finds me asking myself whether or not my intention is a desire to truly connect with them or a manifestation of some need of my own, boredom, etc. I highly recommend self awareness work for everyone, keeps us honest and real.

Sunny2's avatar

Some people consider people who are courteous, too nice. Being quiet instead of noisy. Being patient instead of complaining or pushing ahead. Being sympathetic. Using language to communicate instead of peppering it with invectives which should be saved for blowing off steam or angry reactions. All of these could put you in the “too nice” category.

wildpotato's avatar

That article rings a lot of bells for me. I don’t say yes constantly, but I say “sorry” all the time, where others would just allow the moment of their mild wrongness to pass by. Conflict makes me very anxious and I overinterpret reactions so that everyone is angry at me. I obsess about what others think about me (part of the reason for my Fluther addiction, and the reason I took off for a year). I overextend myself for other people habitually. I have a very hard time accepting a compliment, and prefer to contrive a way to turn it aside. Direct praise or thanks make me uncomfortable.

I find all of these reactions in myself to be pretty weird, so it was nice to read something that ties this stuff together.

However, I think the author’s conclusion is hasty and not generalizable to the majority of nice people. I am nice to others because I genuinely like something about them, usually, and I try to be nice even when I don’t see something to like because I believe in giving people the benefit of the doubt. I think most nice folks are nice for similar reasons, and the exceptions are psychopaths. The last thing in my mind is controlling the person I’m nice to – manipulating others rarely occurrs to me. It ought to more often if I want to get ahead in life, truth be told.

@linguaphile Thank you very much for sharing your opinion. I never once thought that my people-pleasing manner might be the result of abuse I endured as a kid.

Paradox25's avatar

@Neizvestnaya I believe the people you think are “too nice” Well the opinions offered in that article are not necessarily my own opinions. I was actually motivated to ask this question because I disagree with most of it. However, there seems to be a growing element, especially on the internet and from self-help/dating gurus to attack niceness in all forms, and many people actually buy into this stuff.

@ucme I agree that many people seem to love to overanalyze the most simplest things. When we start resorting to overanalyzing something as simple as kindness, compassion, etc then what is the point of living? With the type of mentality presented in that article (just one of many similar ones out there) decent people would live in a constant state of fear and guilt, while people with less than good intentions would truly thrive.

@linguaphile I agree, but he is just one of many overthinkers out there who seems to thrive by attacking genuine kindness. I’m not sure what type of world they envision, but I wouldn’t want to be a part of it, nor live in it.

@LostInParadise I think your statement is the best one so far. There is a big difference between doing nice things because we really enjoy them vs the what’s in it for me type of kindness. In the end only we can know our own true intentions, others only see the visible results of our actions, not our intentions. I do believe that our intentions/motivations really do shape our reality (in the visible sense to others) eventually, and false intentions inevitably become exposed anyways.

Perhaps a better way to look at this is to not reflect on our direct actions, but rather reflect upon what we don’t like. For example, if I don’t steal from someone because I don’t want to go to jail, or because I wouldn’t want that done to me, then perhaps I could question my own intentions here. However, if I know I legitimately feel bad about stealing (words can’t describe all of our thoughts/feelings accurately in my opinion) then I know, at least to myself, that my intentions are good. Ultimately though, it seems that what we wouldn’t want done to us does correlate with what most (using common sense) of us would consider basic decency anyways.

Neizvestnaya's avatar

@paradox25: I understand that, was just going with what I felt was the bent of the post. I also agree and recognize this growing element from my childhood when it seemed like many kids were being told they didn’t have to practice the minimal social courtesies anymore because they were fake or elitist. The result is a bunch of aggressive and rude mf’s who think being polite, kind or helpful without being asked is uncool and weird.

bkcunningham's avatar

I took the article to be more about protecting yourself and your children from harm. The quote at the beginning may have set the tone for me. Gavin de Becker is the author of The Gift of Fear, a book about learning the warning signs of violence.

CWOTUS's avatar

Whoa. What’s wrong with being selfish? This is “a bad thing”?

Most of life is a series of quid pro quo actions. You scratch my back, I’ll scratch yours. We make voluntary exchanges of time and property and talent for the time and property and talent of others.

I think… like most other human activities, actions can be pathological. It is possible to attempt to do “too much” for people, which can make them uncomfortably beholden to one… and consequently resentful (the problem with a lot of teenagers, as a matter of fact). And it’s possible to take too much “help” and fail to learn how to do for ourselves, too. It’s possible to give too much and to take too much.

But that doesn’t mean that everyone being nice is pathological about it, either.

ragingloli's avatar

Also, as they say, “The bigger the smile, the sharper the knife.”

LostInParadise's avatar

@Paradox25 , Thanks for your response. Unfortunately, there is no sharp dividing line between doing things because they are beneficial and doing things because we think they are right. I can be very high minded in describing the reasons for my own actions, but the truth is that I could be mistaken.

Have you ever read the book Freakonomics? I highly recommend it. The author takes economics to mean the study of incentives and shows some rather interesting examples. The one that sticks out most in my mind was the case of a daycare center that was annoyed that so many parents arrived late to pick up their children. To deal with it, they imposed a small fine. The result was even more tardiness on the part of the parents. They were apparently willing to pay the small fine to assuage any guilt feelings over showing up late. Now I am sure that if you asked the parents, that is not the reason they would give. Being decent people, they would give all kinds of excuses and make all kinds of apologies, which shows the degree to which we are mysteries unto ourselves.

rooeytoo's avatar

This sounds like altruistic egoism.

You have to take care of yourself first, that is not selfish it is survival. If you are healthy and well then you can be of service to others if necessary.

Paradox25's avatar

@rooeytoo I can agree with that, we not only need to take care of ourselves first but we also have to love ourselves as well before we can love others. I agreed with that author on a few key points, but with many of these similar blogs out there I felt compelled to post this question. I did ask this question, not necessarily because of that particular article itself, but because of a growing number of dating and self-help advice out there that seems to relish in attacking anything considered decent or compassionate in a person.

The article I’d posted above is actually one of the more mild ones compared to many others I’ve read, and what is frightening to me is that many of these ‘anti-kindness’ articles are written by well known and respected figures.

linguaphile's avatar

@Paradox25 I wonder why and it’s not just the anti-kindness articles out there, but the cruelty and pettiness that’s being promoted on TV shows as entertainment and on channels like the Disney and Nickelodeon channels.

I love Glee, but I do find Sue Sylvester disconcerting—she’s funny, but she’s cruel and ends up being one of the most favorite characters? I do not remember the 80’s and 90’s having shows where being mean was funny— Hardcastle and McCormick, The Wonder Years, Family Ties, Cosby Show, Boy Meets World, etc— When I was young, we had Nancy Drew and Sweet Valley High, now there’s Twilight and the Clique books. Am I wrong? Did I miss something back then?

There’s a visible societal shift going on here—moving away from empathy, compassion, understanding, tolerance and respectful problem-solving to self-preservation, cruelty as humor, entitlement, and the “you get what you deserve” gospel going around… it concerns me, that’s for sure.

Paradox25's avatar

@linguaphile I could have posted a few articles that would had angered a few I’m sure instead of the one I’d posted above, which was relatively mild and somewhat agreeable. They are commonplace though, including in books, mags and even tv. People actually buy into this stuff, and we wonder why we’re having all of the problems we currently are dealing with concerning bullying, stealing, greed, dating, relationships, violence, harrassment, etc, etc, etc.

The real entire point of this thread (though I didn’t admit it at first because I wanted to see people’s responses) was how can we solve all of these problems we’re dealing with today if we’re not dealing with their root causes? It really is the simple things that branch off into all of the bigger problems that we’re having today.

When we start having overthinkers (who usually have profit motives involved) planting seeds of guilt in people simply for being kind, compassionate and nice then where are we at as a society? Where will we end up in the future? Should we just accept that society isn’t fair and teach people to adjust to this by learning to comply with it? Or should we fight the root causes of these problems instead merely teaching normally decent people to simply adjust to BS?

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