It might be cool to be kind, but it can also often lead to being resented. Call it the ‘Nice Poppy Syndrome’: as a society, we tend to immediately look down on do-gooders. If this applies to you, there’s no need to feel guilty. Turns out, we’re conditioned to view nice people as a threat, because they expose our own flaws. As Australian psychologist Natalie Turvey explains, “It’s a social process to bring down those who make us look bad.” Human nature? Yes. But conducive to good relationships? Definitely not. Here’s why you feel so suspicious, and how to overcome the good ol‘ goodness grudge.
The Bias Bug
If you’ve ever been in a situation where you’ve written someone off as annoying, dishonest or even weak, based on their nice and positive attitude, you’ve definitely been bitten by the bias bug. Somewhere along the track, your cognitive understanding of ‘niceness’ has been warped by someone or something that has broken your trust. Whether it was a not-so-sweet relative, or a best friend-turned-bully, you’ve managed to develop emotional distrust with goodness. This tends to occur when we’re younger, while our personalities are still forming and our emotional intelligence is still growing. In turn, if you remember your parents bribing you to behave and be nice while visiting relatives, you’re not alone. As kids, we’re often forced to associate ‘being good’ as something forced or disingenuous, so when we’re met with goodness as adults, we sometimes question people’s motives instead of being welcoming or grateful.
Horns And Halos
If our first reaction to someone is mistrust, it leaves us open to the ‘Halo or Horn’ effect. “This is a type of cognitive bias where people make immediate judgment (good or bad) about another person based on one trait—inexplicable niceness. This bias is made based on perceptions of our social cohort and things like our prejudices,” explains Natalie. “One of the findings of the effect is that this generalisation of information, in this case about the type of person someone is, can impact our decisions and actions towards
To make things more difficult for women, they’re also not allowed to not be nice. Evolutionarily speaking, women have often been responsible for mothering, nurturing, and maintaining social harmony. “Women tend to be more verbal than men, and work within the collective. The collective refers to the concept of women being the ‘gatherers’ and men the ‘hunters’, Natalie explains. “Essentially, it was more important for women to form alliances and maintain relationships by being nice in order to survive.” This evolutionary view that women have to be conversational, sociable and loving, and that men can be bold, hard-hitting and forceful to succeed is a gender stereotype that we still see today. So when women reject the stereotype and adopt a more forward and ruthless approach to work or life, they’re commonly branded as difficult or bitchy. Ladies just can’t win!
Pesky Prehistoric Prejudices
Our ancestral friends would have relied heavily on their instincts when roaming the jungle, and delaying judgment could have meant the difference between life and death. The next time someone walks into your life radiating nothing but sunshine and rainbows, and you find your instincts kicking in to immediately question or resent that person, take the time to reconsider. Immediately judging someone is so 400BC. As well as being unfriendly, hatred is a huge energy waster, and is not ideal for your mental health. So take a deep breath and reconsider your snap judgment. As Natalie explains, empathy is key, “Individuals must be able to identify emotions in themselves and those around them. This allows them to act appropriately.” So the next time you find yourself hating on someone for being good, check your cognitive bias and carry on.
Here are some examples of people who are considered 'good' from film and television who are often misunderstood.
Betty cooper, Riverdale
She’s kind, emphathetic, and a great friend...almost to a fault. People dislike her because they can’t seem to believe in her goodness.
CHARLOTTE YORK, SATC
She’s conversational, quick-witted, and a great friend, but is overlooked in a group of strong-minded women who take a more blunt approach.
ELLE WOODS, LEGALLY BLONDE
She’s the Harvard newbie who gets herself into strife with her positive attitude, fun-loving wardrobe, and unassuming charm. Turns out she’s a genius. Take that!
HERMIONE GRANGER, HARRY POTTER
She’s helpful and pleasant to all, but her goodness gets her classmates all ruffled up when it’s misconstrued as arrogance. She’s just trying to help!