It’s good to be nice even if it doesn’t pay

It’s good to be nice even if it doesn’t pay

Does it cost us anything to be socially sensitive, nuanced, and not embarrass people?

Representative Image. Credit: iStock Photo

Even at little or no material cost, Indians are less likely to perform small acts of attention or kindness to strangers, reveals a research paper published on August 23, 2021, by Dutch scholar Niels J Van Doesum and others. This study of 31 countries rates Japanese as most socially mindful of showing concern for others. Indians, followed by Turks and Indonesians, are least likely to be thoughtful about how their simple ordinary choices will affect others, finds this research.

The paper highlights that people of various countries differ to a great extent in being pro-social or “being thoughtful of others in the present moment, and considering their needs and wishes before making a decision.”

Universal co-existence

The research paper establishes a strong correlation between social mindfulness and the strength of a country’s social, environmental, and other ecosystems. This is important for global co-existence and co-operation, interdependence in trade, resolving conflicts, environmental protection, and sharing natural resources. The social mindfulness or niceness is thus entwined with the present and future of humans and other species.

Happiness quotients

Taking a cue from this research, we can argue that self-regulation and social mindfulness create better trust among the citizens as well as between the government and the governed. This results in lesser laws and regulations, making the citizens happier as seen in Scandinavian countries. Niceness per se makes people happier — the doer, the beneficiary, and all others. Do we see the link between a nation’s niceness quotient and happiness quotient — a case for further research into this correlation?

We the Indians

Forget the ‘costly’ or ‘troublesome’ prosocial act of taking an accident victim to the hospital, we don’t even stop the car to let an aged pedestrian pass, which costs us nothing except a few moments. We lose nothing if we leave a public toilet seat clean after use, or when we don’t spit anywhere and everywhere, or if we don’t throw garbage on the streets. But we have become socially so unmindful, we either indulge with impunity or shrug our shoulders and move on.

Does it cost us anything to be socially sensitive, nuanced, and not embarrass people? Can’t we avoid laughing or looking deep into their eyes when they commit a faux pas? This raises questions about the civility of the people from an ancient civilisation — about our character and ethos.

This brings us to another interesting question — what happens to the rare breed of nice people surrounded by the unthoughtful, unconcerned, uncooperative majority in our country? Do nice people finish last in our country?

It seems so. Being good, fair, and decent to others, we end up being bad, unfair, and indecent to ourselves. If we are good, people take us for granted — they push, pull, and impose. It works at a subliminal level and expresses itself in overt and covert commands and controls.

At home, at work, in public places, or in social situations, nice people suffer. You don’t break the cinema queues and traffic rules, but others do — you end up not getting the ticket and getting stuck in a jam. We offer a seat to the elderly, but others usurp ours. You wait long hours to meet a bureaucrat or a politician, but the high and the mighty have an express entry — you don’t get to see the God even after the seventh visit.

We often see that goodness doesn’t pay. But life is not all about transactions. Call it courtesy of one’s methods and manners — it’s the innate decency in one’s character. What counts is the way we think, behave, and live when no one is looking. It’s the difference between being pseudo-nice on social media vs being nice in real life — when there is none to send us ‘likes’. The choices we make affect the choices of others.

In India, nice guys at times finish last… Still, it’s nice to be nice.

(The writer is a Bengaluru-based innovation and public policy consultant.)