In a 2014 experiment of the famous Milgram Paradigm study (1) – regarding agreeability and obedience – it was shown that people who are more agreeable or “nicer” are more likely to hurt others because they do not want to displease or look disagreeable. Specifically – when told to induce more electrical shocks on research subjects, the ones who were nicer were also more obedient to authority – even when it meant hurting another person.
With the explosion of social media – especially Facebook – I have analyzed some very common trends regarding social interaction post major life endeavors or athletic competitions. Not surprisingly, the analysis shows that most friends on Facebook who are being “nice and supportive” are doing so because they do not want to appear disagreeable and may not be actually offering what their friend needs to hear. Sometimes we need to hear that we quit too soon, we found excuses, we didn’t give it our all. Not surprisingly, this same trend applies to losing weight, to leaving an abusive relationship, to finishing a project, to generally accomplishing any goal. How many times have you heard a friend say, “It’s ok, you’ll do better next time.” Again, maybe what you really needed to hear was, “Did you really give your all?”
Let’s take for example an athlete who competes in a long distance race. If the athlete decides to quit and receives a DNF (did not finish) the comments following the news of the DNF – with the appropriate excuses – are generally praises such as: You did everything you could. It was just not your day. You live to fight another day. It’s the best decision you made. You learned so much in the process. You still completed x more than most. You are still my hero. I still love you. And on and on. Now, from a purely rational stand point, the athlete failed to meet his/her goal and the “friends” are responding that it is OK, in most cases that it was the “best decision.” At a first glance it seems the “friends” are just being supportive…
A closer analysis of “the friends” generally reveals several things: the vast majority of the friends who are being “supportive” are doing so because they themselves have failed multiple times or never attempted anything similar. That shows the second motive “friends” are being supportive. Not only do they not want to be disagreeable but — on a more selfish level — they want rationalize their own failures. By telling someone you made the best choice when you quit – I understand you and agree with you, you are also telling yourself, when I quit I am also making the best choice – and wish my friends are going to agree with me.
This type of behavior leads to a cycle of failure which is supported and “justified” by the group. Instead of holding ourselves and our friends accountable we are giving a break to others hoping they do the same to us, perpetuating the cycle of failure and sabotaging ourselves and our friends.
If you really want to succeed – and who doesn’t? — you have to be honest with yourself, ask others to be honest with you and do the same in return for them. Popular wisdom of the past several thousand years tell us that if you want to succeed you have to surround yourself with others who are successful. Let go of the “friends” who are “nice” just because they wish to please you and in return seek friends who are honest and hold you accountable.
Your success will thank you.
(1) – Bègue, L., Beauvois, J.-L., Courbet, D., Oberlé, D., Lepage, J. and Duke, A. A. (2014), Personality Predicts Obedience in a Milgram Paradigm. Journal of Personality. doi: 10.1111/jopy.12104