Niceness, Nastiness and Golden Balls
I'm not always a fan of "nice." If you look at the history of the word, you find it meant "trivial, foolish and ignorant" before it meant "pleasant". Nice is a way of making oneself small, of not making waves, of finishing last. Like all doormats, nice can cover up a lot of dirt. Nice people sometimes wrap their victimhood around them like a blanket. Nice people don't say upsetting things, even if unpleasantness might be in everyone's highest good. My favorite story about this comes from a Radiolab episode about the Golden Rule. Essentially, there is a game show where in the final round, two strangers have to decide if they will share the jackpot or try to steal it all for themselves. In this take on the Prisoner's dilemma, if both people decide to share, the jackpot is divided evenly between them. If one decides to share, but the other decides to steal, then the entire jackpot goes to the stealer and the sharer gets nothing. However, if both steal then they both get nothing. This is exactly the problem with being "nice" in a world where not everyone is nice. Before each contestant reveals their choice they get some time to persuade the other person to choose "share." They typically do this by promising to split with the other. The audience and their opponent tries to assess if the players are really as "nice" as they promise or if they secretly intend to stab the other person in the eyeball and make a run for the cash. The Radiolab episode has wonderful examples of how this plays out when seemingly good people succumb to greed. If you've ever spent time with a sociopath you might experience a touch of deja vu; there's a lot of eyeball stabbing going on. What's a good person to do? In the clip that follows the person on the left has every intention to steal (he later reveals). The man on the right is playing for charity. He's going to do something much wiser than being nice; he's going to be kind:
Kindness comes from the root "kin" which means family. It means treating everyone as if we were connected. It means seeing a loss for anyone as a loss for everyone and working to see that we both are taken care of. It means understanding that we are all flawed, we are all capable of being eye-stabbing asshats and taking whatever steps we can to create wins in the world anyway. Kindness takes goodness and gives it power. That's one kind man - you can see it in his face, can't you?