Four Reasons to be Nice to People
1) Something horrible may have just happened to them. Even lucky people have devastating events in their lives. The deaths of people close to them, for instance. A deep betrayal by a friend or lover. The suicide of even a distant acquaintance. Having to move away from a loved home. Losing a job or an opportunity that seemed like it was going to make a better life. Being personally affected, even tangentially, by a disaster of great scale or a crime of great cruelty. The worst of these devastate people for months, even years: and most people are going to have at least half a dozen of them in their lives. If you do some rough and ready math with this, you can reckon that probably several of the people you encounter today are going to be walking around in a state of emotional devastation. Of course they're not going to be chipper and accommodating and on the ball.
2) They may be ill or in pain. A lot of people are: as a massage therapist I've discovered that the number of people in serious chronic pain -- who usually successfully disguise it from coworkers and even family -- is very high. These people don't wear signs around their necks, announcing “I'm in excruciating pain!” or “if I bend over to pick up that folder, I may faint!” And if we can trust the popular statistics, a quarter of the people we meet are suffering from some diagnosable mental illness. The amount of suffering out there is immense.
3) Then there's Maslow's hierarchy of needs. According to Maslow -- I learned this young and I've never seen any reason to doubt it -- people don't move on to higher-level things, such as creative work, real hard thinking, abandoning prejudices, etc. -- until their needs for love and esteem are met. Someone who feels unloved or un-valued is going to gravitate to a place where they can get love and esteem, at almost any price. Until they get it, you've got no hope of engaging them at the higher levels. It's just not going to happen. So if you want people ever to rise above themselves, your best starting place is to love them and value them. You don't have to be deceitful: you just have to find things to love and admire about them. If you look, you'll find them.
4) People are wonderful when you're nice to them. They're unexpected and madcap and delightful when they know they're loved and esteemed. So it's a self-reinforcing project. If you want people to be beautiful, then your best bet is to look for their beauty, not only because it's there -- it is -- but also because looking for it cultivates it and nurtures it. So ultimately, if you look at it this way -- I don't usually, but one could -- it makes pure greedy, self-aggrandizing sense to be nice to people. I'm surrounded by delightful people, and the main reason for that is not only because I am outrageously lucky in my friends and family -- though that's true too -- but also because I love them and value them and let them know it.