Why You Should Be Nice

 “The world isn’t nice so why should I be?”

This I something that a friend of mine said once. We weren’t discussing anything major or even to do with dealing with people; this came out of whether or not old smoke alarms should be disposed of properly (because of the nuclear material contained therein), or whether it is acceptable to throw them out with your other household trash.

There is no reason, from the perspective of one person, to choose to properly dispose of smoke alarms, batteries, electronics, or anything else of that nature, properly. Absolutely none. No-one would know if you were to take the easy way out, and there would be no penalties, personally, for doing so. From an absolutely selfish perspective, he was right; why bother properly disposing of things properly when doing it the easy way is both easy, and has no downsides for you personally?

Well I suppose that there is no reason when you look at it that way, but I see things differently. I think that people should act in a way that would let things turn out okay if the majority of people acted that way. If we all dropped garbage wherever we went, then things would obviously not be okay. We’d have, just, so much trash, everywhere we went. No one person would be held responsible, but everyone would suffer with an objectively worse environment, both directly around us and otherwise, because of it. It isn’t most personally efficient or convenient way to act, whether we’re talking trash or otherwise, but taking a little time to act properly and throw our trash into bins instead of dropping things where we are, benefits everyone if everyone does it.

Related: Don't be a Nice Guy™

Well that’s one thing, but what about a situation wherein you personally have something to gain? Should we still act nicely? Do the rules change when you have something to gain with low risk of being caught? Well, I have a story about that.

In my teenage years, I had a job working fast food at a mall. I went to the bathroom before work as I usually did, and noticed that someone had (obviously accidentally) left their iPhone 5 in one of the stalls. I had a choice to make; do I take it, do I leave it, or do I wait for the owner to return and hand it back? Well I suppose handing it into the concierge desk was another option but that didn’t cross my mind at that moment. The iPhone 5 was still quite new at the time so I could have easily landed myself a few hundred dollars. What I did, I still think about all the time.

I left it. I left an iPhone 5 unattended in a public bathroom, in a popular city mall, at 1pm. Out of all three options, my choice was objectively the worst; not only did I not gain anything, but the owner likely did not get the iPhone back. It was a failed exercise for everyone involved, but by motivation was such that, if I lost my iPhone, I would want to have it returned to me. I left the iPhone in hopes that the owner would quickly return for it. I acted in a way wherein if everyone acted that way (not pocketing strangers’ iPhones in public bathrooms), things would turn out well. Going back, I would like to return the iPhone, but unfortunately what’s done is done.

Maybe the owner got lucky and another altruistic person made sure that their iPhone was returned to them.

So why should you be nice? It’s because you’d want others to do the same. That isn’t the most realistic thing in the world but I feel that doing the opposite and acting like a thoughtless, selfish jerk, with the assumption that everyone else will too, only guarantees that everyone becomes a thoughtless, selfish jerk.

That wouldn’t be a very good world to live in. The world is not always nice, but if everyone is thoughtless and selfish, then it can’t ever be.