Our world is a cruel world. To make it, you will often have to fight your way through. Lots of people are selfish, violent, self-centered, or even straight up evil.
But not you. You’ve had some bad moments of course, but overall, you’re a pretty decent person. You usually try to be nice, or at least polite to people, even when you don’t like the person. You are trying to be the change you want to see in the world.
Or at least you think you do.
If I were to ask you when was the last time you actually made an effort to do something nice for a stranger, even though most people agreed with the previous part of this post, now the answers would be very different from one person to the other. Some of us can remember it very well, since we do it every day. Some of us can also remember it very well, since it actually doesn’t happen that often. Some of us would be unable to answer, but instead of admitting to being kind of a jerk, we’d turn this into a debate about the real meaning of being nice. “Being nice isn’t about particular actions, but mostly about an attitude. Instead of pointing at a particular event, we should all look at our personality all day long, because that’s what it’s really about.” Of course, now that it has become totally impossible to accurately estimate anything with this new definition, I can claim to be nice and you can’t refute it.
But that’s just textbook cognitive dissonance, and also a bit of me being a judgmental prick. That’s not the interesting part.
Being nice is not just about doing nice things for other people. Half of it should also be about not doing evil things for other people.
If I give 20$ to a homeless person, and then beat up the next homeless person I meet, I can’t really claim to be nice to homeless people. So we have to also take this into account.
If I were to ask you when was the last time you actually acted like an asshole to a stranger, would you be able to answer?
I assume that, somewhere in the world, there exists a man or woman who has genuinely never acted like a jerk. I will also be a jerk to this person and exclude them for the sake of argument.
Now that we’re alone, one “once-a-jerk” to another, do you remember the last time you were a jerk? Just like being dumb, this one can be hard for some people, and easy for others.
But this time, I actually have an idea to solve the problem of not knowing whether we are actually good or bad. It goes like this: If you are genuinely a nice person, and you once act like an asshole, you will regret it. Being used to the “good”, the “bad” will stand out, and if you go straight back to “good” right after, you will feel guilty for having been “bad”. Therefore, you are a lot more likely to remember your asshole moments if you are genuinely not one.
If the previous definition was true, then simply trying to recall your jerk moments should give you a decent idea of your actual level of niceness. This is not perfect, of course, as a genuine psychopath would be proud of those, and thus remember many of them too. But this should pretty efficiently weed out the “thinks is nice but actually isn’t” part of the population, which I think is the majority of “not nice” people. We are so wired to think that we should be nice, that cognitive dissonance usually prevents us from thinking we aren’t.
But there is still a problem. If I am indeed a dumb person, then this definition might feel smart to me, but actually be totally stupid. Then, genuinely nice people might read this, and tell me that my idea is completely dumb. If, on the other hand, the definition actually is smart, but as expected, lots of people who think they are nice but actually aren’t read this, and see that this definition puts them on the naughty list, it won’t cure them. If they spent their whole lives blinded to the truth, a random blog post by a random unimportant Canadian won’t make them see it. So cognitive dissonance will kick in, and they will feel like my new niceness test is completely dumb and doesn’t work.
So, again, no matter if I’m right or wrong, the reaction to this post will be the same, and I will probably make some readers think that I’m an idiot while I truly have no way of improving from that feedback.
Or, just like most of my other ideas, I simply won’t be popular enough to attract a decent amount of readers, so I’ll just be a faint drop of content in the sea that is the internet, and I won’t get that negative reaction or any reaction at all.
I think I’ve got this whole controversial ideas thing figured out.