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The Secret of N.I.C.E. [Jan. 20th, 2012|12:12 am]
So apparently I radiate some kind of low-grade psychic field that makes people want to be nice to me.

I ran off to Chipotle to grab a burrito for dinner on the plane tomorrow. Upon reaching the cash register, I reached into my pocket and discovered a distinct lack of... anything.

ME: Oh, jeez. I seem to have left all my credit cards and stuff at home, so if you could just hold onto that for me for five minutes, I'll be right back...

MANAGER: Don't worry about it. I got it.

ME: Wut?

MANAGER: I got it. You're all set. *comps my burrito*

ME: Well... thank you very much!

So that was cool.

As you may have inferred from my opening line, this kind of thing is not fantastically uncommon an occurrence for me, and accords well with my deep-seated feeling that people are, in general, fundamentally good, and that selfishness and unkindness are aberrant behaviors. That's not necessarily something I believe intellectually, but something that I feel on a gut level when I interact with people.

Now. It could be that I am just lucky, and that I simply happen to encounter nicer people on average than most people do, which raises my opinion of them. But if so, it's a weirdly consistent phenomenon. I think it's the other way around: I think belief is shaping reality.

This is what people mean when they talk about the universe giving back to you what you've put out there. Despite how it sounds, this is not a woo-woo magical thinking kind of thing. Projecting a feeling of lightness will not modulate your local gravity field, because physics Does Not Care.

The thing you have to remember about this idea is that when you're interacting with "the universe", a really large fraction of it is other people. People DO care about attitude. And people are really good at reading attitude in body language. Really REALLY good -- like, I think we are much, much better at it than we realize, and the problem is that 99% of it happens on an unconscious level.

And when you're interacting with people, especially strangers, unless you're actively pursuing some kind of objective, the default human behavior is to mirror whatever the other person is putting off. If the other person is wary, or relaxed, or brusque, you'll tend to be a bit wary, or relaxed, or brusque in response. And this is all entirely unconscious.

What happens when you multiply this out by tens or hundreds of daily societal interactions is that however you expect people to be, that's mostly how they are. Because you're unconsciously projecting that expectation, and they're unconsciously responding to it.
(Thinking about it, it's probably a bit more complex than simple mirroring, but the point stands: your attitude will condition others' responses.)

Now, this power-of-positive-thinking stuff gets ugly if you spin into blaming the victim: so now when bad things happen, it's my fault for not having a positive attitude? No, not at all. There are plenty of terrible people out there who will be nasty no matter how you approach them. But as far as the emotional background radiation of your small day-to-day interactions go, that you can adjust. If you feel like the universe at large is not as nice as you would like it to be, try projecting more niceness outward, and see if it doesn't get reflected back to you.

This seems like the most rational explanation for why I encounter so many nice people who do nice things for me. Because otherwise, I have to assume that I've got some kind of Luck stat, and that it's very high. And that's just weird.

[User Picture]From: dpolicar
2012-01-20 02:05 pm (UTC)

Another big part of it is realizing that my model of what sorts of things happen to me is the result of lots of unconscious data processing on the things that happen to me, and it's quite normal for that processing to be biased in various ways.

That is, if three people experience a sequence of events comprising one really good thing, one really bad thing, and a bunch of things in the middle that have both good and bad elements, person 1 might model it as "this horrible thing happened, and these other bad things happened, and oh yeah some stuff was OK" while person 2 models it as "this wonderful thing happened, and these other kind of cool things happened, and oh yeah some stuff was not so great" and person 3 models it as "some stuff happened". (And so on.)

As for blaming the victim (and the related problem of invalidating other people's perceptions of their own lives)... I kind of don't see any way around this, actually. If my life goes poorly, or well, I am responsible for that to the extent that I can influence how well my life goes. The more power I have, the more responsible I am.

Sometimes that really sucks, sometimes it's really awesome.
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[User Picture]From: nehrlich
2012-01-20 02:26 pm (UTC)
I used to wonder about this - some people seem to have consistently good luck, some consistently bad, and I wondered which way the causality might run. But I think Dave's explanation makes sense - it's not necessarily the events themselves that determine how one perceives one's luck.

There was a cute study done at one point (http://knowinnovation.com/do-you-feel-lucky/): "In one of his studies, he invited participants to described themselves as lucky or unlucky. He gave each participant a newspaper and asked them to count the number of photographs inside. The unlucky people took several minutes to count all the images. The lucky people were finished in seconds. Both groups were reading the same newspaper." (the reason why was that the second page had an ad that said "There are 43 pictures" - the "lucky" people noticed the ad, the "unlucky" people were too busy counting pictures to see it)

While we can't necessarily control the events in our lives, we can certainly control how we react to and perceive them. I was talking to a friend recently about how I should start a "good things" journal to write down the things that I did well each day as she thinks I'm too self-deprecating.
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[User Picture]From: dpolicar
2012-01-20 06:04 pm (UTC)
There are lots of factors here. I suspect that one important one is, roughly, how likely I am to attribute good results to my specific actions, vs. how likely I am to attribute good results to more abstract systemic forces. It would not surprise me to find that the latter group are more likely to describe themselves as lucky, and that the former group are more likely to count the photos.

Incidentally, the group that repeated the reported count did not perform the task assigned to them.
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[User Picture]From: nitasee
2012-01-20 03:22 pm (UTC)
So apparently I radiate some kind of low-grade psychic field that makes people want to be nice to me.

I can't help but think that's an awesome superpower you got there.

Actually, I think - and this is what you are saying - is that it's a projection of the attitude you emit. Just on a daily level, I try very hard to be polite and kind to waitstaff everywhere, and in turn I get good service and often waiters/tresses that remember me, are friendly and even asking how I am. Nice breeds nice.
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[User Picture]From: joebehrsandiego
2012-01-20 07:22 pm (UTC)

Seth: Many thanks for this post. Uplifting, interesting, good perspective/advice.
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[User Picture]From: dcseain
2012-01-20 05:24 pm (UTC)
Yes, i think you sum it up nicely. :)
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[User Picture]From: annlarimer
2012-01-20 06:01 pm (UTC)
When I'm in places like conventions or airports, I have noticed that the people who go in expecting everything to go wrong and being what they probably think is "firm" with the staff inevitably have a shitty time of it. Being chill isn't a guarantee against disaster, but it does get results.

And people are really good at reading attitude in body language. Really REALLY good -- like, I think we are much, much better at it than we realize, and the problem is that 99% of it happens on an unconscious level.

We're super good at this stuff. Try taking your glasses off and see how many people you recognize a hundred yards off just from their blurry gait.
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[User Picture]From: dr_tectonic
2012-01-20 06:55 pm (UTC)

edited for icon

Try taking your glasses off and see how many people you recognize a hundred yards off just from their blurry gait.

Ohmigod it bugs me SO MUCH when that gets ignored in TV/movies!

I mean, characters who can't tell if someone is/isn't their spouse of several decades just because they can't see a face? For serious? I can often identify people just by how they sound when walking, and I am not an especially observant person.

Edited at 2012-01-20 06:56 pm (UTC)
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[User Picture]From: annlarimer
2012-01-20 07:11 pm (UTC)

Re: edited for icon

Or fake spouse has the scientifically implausible totally perfect fake face, and nobody notices any of the other differences in stance, build, movement, voice, teeth, scent, hair, or word choice.
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[User Picture]From: e_ticket
2012-01-20 07:25 pm (UTC)
Garbabe in, garbage out.
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[User Picture]From: kumazuki
2012-01-20 09:02 pm (UTC)
I would have to agree with theoctothorpe, I do get a good vibe off you. Now, I have not met you in person yet, but I do get I good feeling everytime I see your posts.
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[User Picture]From: goddessdster
2012-01-23 04:51 am (UTC)
So late to this, and a little after the fact considering we were talking about this earlier, but I wanted to put something in I thought about after our talk (another Curse of the Introvert thing):

Another factor of this that appeals to me is its application to Buddhism. When participating in Right Intention (as far as our dealings with others go), we aren't simply projecting Nice in order to get Nice in return, we actually believe in the ripple effect of human interaction. When I am nice to someone, no matter their reaction to me, chances are greater they may be nicer to someone else, who may be nicer to someone else, et cetera...

The point being, putting positive vibes out there, no matter how woo-woo that sounds, can still actually change the world through exponential human interaction.

Also, you are very nice. I know this for a fact. Chances are, you have been your regular awesome self to that manager and others at that Chipotle many times before and they remember you and your awesomeness. That person just got the chance to pay forward your niceness back atcha, which probably made him/her feel great, which improved his/her entire day.

So, in a way, your niceness still benefited that other person. Dude.
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[User Picture]From: shirtlifterbear
2012-01-24 04:01 am (UTC)
I am rather noted for my upbeat vibe, as I'm sure you know!

And things work out for me.

I choose to view this as empirical evidence of optimism's power to influence interactions.

I'm the only nice guy to speak to the ticket agent who's having to rebook an entire flight worth of passengers after a cancellation, and I get a free first class upgrade onto the next flight out.

I'm friendly to the growly secretary that everyone's afraid of in my department, and she finds me a miraculous five-minute window in the Dean's office to get my form signed.

I write a chipper letter to a conference email address asking for more info, not realizing that it's sent to the President of the International Scientific Union, and he writes back asking if I want to be on the student committee and here's the coordinator's email address and he looks forward to meeting me in Fairbanks.

NICE works.

And I suspect that genuinely nice people DO radiate that per your supposition, and it influences the attitudes of the people around them in positive ways.

We're Happy Butterflies Causing Upbeat Chaotic Effects At A Far Remove!

And we have a High Mental Affinity score to go with that Luck Stat!
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