It’s indisputably good to be nice. Whether it’s helping a friend with biology homework, watching their favorite shows even if they’re not your thing or driving them to an event to save Uber costs, giving up a little time and energy to do something for a friend is a commendable decision. Or, one might be the bigger person and agree to take the short end of the stick in a dispute, all to placate others and avoid further conflict.
Still, we need to regulate our niceness; despite its merits, it’s definitely not without downsides.
To be clear, I’m not advocating for selfishness. In fact, I’d encourage everyone to do small favors for the people they care about. As the cliché goes, humans are social creatures, and helping others makes us happy. It also gives us a greater sense of purpose and belonging, as we feel more connected to those we do favors for. The same goes for sacrificing a little on our end to ease a conflict, which might feel uncomfortable in the short term, but is ultimately for the greater good.
Yet, we need to be careful about where our niceness is rooted. When our desire to help others comes from a need to be perceived as a good or friendly person, our motivations become increasingly dangerous. For instance, we might want others to relate to us, so we say that we like their favorite songs when we don’t. Similar logic applies to situations of politics or other preferences, where we might skew what we say to make others like us.
Though these situations seem trivial, most would agree that dishonesty already feels slightly unethical. Ethics aside, being agreeable all the time diminishes our individuality, as we become a product of the people around us instead of having our own unique personality. Additionally, when extended to more impactful scenarios, avoiding unreasonable agreeability becomes even more important.
For example, offering to do too many favors can be overwhelming, as our desire to be seen as selfless and kind outweighs our concern for our own well-being. For example, if you constantly support others emotionally, or help them with academics, that habit might become part of your self-perception. In other words, you see yourself as someone willing to lend a hand to others when they are in need.
Though this characteristic is typically beneficial, the human desire to remain consistent with what we believe is often so strong that we refuse to violate our habits even when necessary. Even if we’re exhausted from personal issues, for instance, we might still feel the obligation to comfort a friend; if we’re low on money, we might still feel the urge to buy a loved one an expensive present. Both of these desires stem from our insistence on remaining consistent in preserving our image: we’ve painted ourselves as caring people, and we’re afraid of damaging that self-perception.
Those who succumb to those urges may feel accomplished, thinking that if they are still doing favors despite their own problems, they are extra selfless or caring. However, doing so is rarely worth it: helping others should not excessively damage our own physical and mental health. Not only does it prevent us from continuing our selfless habits in the long term, but it also hurts others’ perceptions of us. People lose respect for those who show little assertiveness or respect for their own time or health, and may respond by further overstretching our boundaries.
Though agreeability spans the experiences of all kinds of people, it can be especially true within communities where selflessness is an established priority. For instance, from my experience at Harvey Mudd College, students are known for caring for others, constantly offering to help their peers with academics or other endeavors. This automatic perception of people’s willingness to help can put pressure on Mudders to sacrifice their energy, even if they may lack the capability to do so. Instead, they should remind themselves of their priorities, then realistically calculate if they have the ability to lend a hand. If they do, they should go for it — but if doing so risks overstretching their mental, physical, or financial boundaries, they should think twice before saying yes.
Ultimately, making kindness a habit is an honorable goal. But as with all things, moderation is key, and sometimes, sacrificing a little too much can cause more harm than good.
Serena Mao HM ’25 is from Fremont, California. She swears her articles aren’t rooted in her own experiences — if you know her, no you don’t.