Why You Have to Be Nice

Wednesday, 29 December 2010

[Picture of a fanned out wad of dollar bills]EVERYONE ultimately has to be nice for survival.  This may appear counter-intuitive in a dog-eat-dog, cut-throat ambitious, capitalist and competitive world, but I shall prove it here as it is based on solid scientific evidence.

Psychologists Neils van de Ven, Marcel Zeelenberg and Rik Pieters of Tilburg University have shown that envy can be benign or malicious.  Benign envy can be “a good thing” in that the person being envied suffers no ill, and the person doing the envying gets motivated to at least try to become like their hero.  Malicious envy is more interesting (and surprising).

In a previous post on this site (How To Get To Heaven Part 2, Nov 2001), I mentioned in passing, the Seven Deadly Sins — Pride, Envy, Gluttony, Lust, Anger, Greed, and Sloth.  In the comments, I was corrected by Deadly Deedes who pointed out…

The Ancient Greek word “Phthonos” means “envy”, but by “nemesis” the Greeks meant “indignation at undeserved success”.

Somehow these two Greek words merged into a single Latin word used by the Romans: “Invidia” and is often (incorrectly translated as “envy”).

“Invidia” is one of the SEVEN DEADLY SINS, so the distinction can be important.

Another of the SEVEN DEADLY SINS is “Luxuria” which is similarly mistranslated or mis-taken as “Lust” when it means “extravagance”.

The Christians have managed to introduce a sex term into the list of sins!

As LUXURIA, the first of the deadly sins, refers to wastefulness, luxury, extravagance and so forth, I thought you might be interested as it does connect the seven deadly sins with the topic of this blog post — poverty, living a mendicant life, living like Jesus and so on.

An interesting point or distinction may be made then: instead of living a life of extreme poverty, you can possess things and enjoy life and material goods as long as you are not wasteful and extravagant (the other extreme). In other words to take what you need, and not more.

This will keep you from committing a deadly sin.

Additionally, remember never to be annoyed at someone’s unmerited success (which is not quite the same as jealousy or envy, is it?).

Malicious envy is when you are annoyed at someone else’s success (merited or not, Deadly Deedes), and wish them to fail.  This kind of envy can make you resent, despise, and even hate another person — not for anything they have done to you, but simply for getting something you wanted, or for being able to achieve or obtain something that you cannot.

Clearly, this version of envy is bad for the person doing the envying — even though they might not be breaking one of the Famous  “Seven Deadly Sins”, it is not a good place to be.  In addition, it might just be bad for the object of malicious envy.

It is possible that harm could befall you if someone envies you in this way — actual physical harm, but also character assassination and malicious gossip, and this is where things get interesting.

The Dutch psychologists explored this situation, and discovered that there is a positive outcome from malicious envy! It seems that people who are successful are aware that their success can aggrieve others, so they become nicer human beings in an attempt to deflect animosity! They become more social-minded and sociable, more “caring” and possibly more political as well. Just think of the likes of Bono, Sting, and Bob Geldof.

Attempting to deflect animosity leads to Philanthropy and Do-Gooding.

It makes sense, when you think about it; if you win or inherit money, you know your good luck will be resented, so you give some away, or you flatter and boost everyone’s egos in an attempt to protect yourself.  It is a self-defence mechanism.  Let’s face it, if you were more in control of your (rate of) success, you might be able to do what Deadly Deedes suggested in the comment above — be less obvious, less ostentatious, not appear so obviously successful or talented or wealthy!  The real world means that things take off at a time and pace that is ungovernable and often unmanageable, so the only real option is to start doing acts of kindness.

People who try to get ahead by bringing down others, those who channel their malicious general envy and ambition to “reach the top” fail to realise that when they get there, they will have to start being nice — and by then it could be too late.

2 Responses to “Why You Have to Be Nice”

  1. DarKnight Says:

    So the real Seven Deadly Sins are
    Indignation at undeserved success,
    Wasteful extravagance,
    Greed, and
    That certainly changes the plot of a few books and films! LOL!

  2. Lauren Says:

    Interesting when you link this essay with the earlier one (https://rtone.wordpress.com/2010/07/13/how-good-are-you/).

    “How Good Are You” suggests that due to the Dunning-Kruger effect, people are pretty bad at estimating their skill level. If they are idiots, they think they are smarter, and if they are smart they underestimate their intelligence and skills.

    When I read the essay on having to be nice as a form of protection, it did occur to me that the successful person might actually not feel deserving of the success, and might be a do-gooder and philanthropist from some internal insecurity (rather than simply as a form of defence).

    In considering both essays more deeply and together, I see now that the key thing is the talent and intelligence of the successful person. A lot of stupid people become rich and famous, and they seem to me to be delusional in the estimate of their importance. On the other hand, some very talented people have made it big, and they are “nicer” and probably insecure. I see now that, either way, success brings with it the need to be nicer, and this might just explain the hubris and fallibility of certain flash-in-the-pan, one-hit-wonder, z-list celebrities.

    So thanks for helping me make sense of the world, RTone or RT1. Your series of essays on this site are most enlightening and thought-provoking.

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