Project Genesis

Why Be Nice?

Question:Why should one be nice? When one is nice they can miss out on stuff. When I was playing ball and I saw a kid at the side so I was nice and invited her in the game. Then what happened is she got me out! Now I have mixed feelings ever inviting her again or anyone else on the sidelines because I just lost out on my fun. Thanks so much.

Answer: Perhaps your question is actually far bigger than just “why be nice?” Perhaps we could rephrase it: “why choose one particular option above any other?” Or, in other words, how do we make decisions in a way that both reflects intelligence and produces that greatest value?

You are of course correct that being nice carries the risk of pain and loss, but it also brings benefits. For instance, if you are nice to the people around you when they need it, you might well get some of that back when you’re the one asking for help. I’m sure that you also feel good after having done some act of kindness. Most significantly, by being kind, we are performing the commandment (Mitzva) to emulate our Creator Who is Himself kind (see Devarim 13:5) – and such a Mitzva has all kinds of benefits, including the opportunity to refine our character, bringing us closer to our highest goals in life.

Still, just because something is a Mitzva and can change us in a positive way doesn’t mean that it is always automatically the best thing to do. Sometimes doing kindness for one person can harm another or even oneself (if, for instance, someone gives up necessary sleep or the things he himself might desperately need). So how do we choose? Ideally, moral choices should be the result of conscious deliberation. This is often called a cost-benefit analysis. One might write down on a piece of paper all the reasons why a particular act should not be done. He could then create a second column on the paper to list all the benefits of doing it. Sometimes simply reading through the list is enough to clarify the right choice. Other times, one might have to carefully weigh costs against benefits (working hard to anticipate all the possible consequences of each choice).

But either way, thinking things through in advance will certainly lead to a more informed choice and make it easier to know when a bit of self sacrifice is worthwhile.

With my best regards,
Rabbi Boruch Clinton

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