Santa has mad skills when it comes to deciding who’s naughty or nice, but I’ve been wondering lately how the rest of us determine such things. After listening to loads of people both in and out of conflict situations, I’ve come to the conclusion that what we do is collect lots of information and then funnel the bits into an internal meter. The device considers everything we know (and some things we don’t know) and then the arrow points in one direction or the other. Some of the criteria we consider actually aren’t very nice on our part, but that’s beside the point.
To get the meter to stick clearly on the nice side someone has to do what we want them to do, when we want them to do it, and they can rarely complain about anything. They will stay on the nice end of the spectrum if they make us feel good about ourselves. And, it’s a bonus if they almost always put us first and make personal sacrifices in order for us to get what we want.
On the other end of the meter is the naughty spectrum. It’s easy to say someone “isn’t very nice” if they tell us no, if they don’t go along with our plans, or when they see things from a viewpoint that frustrates us. People are naughty if they make us feel bad when we’re around them. Anyone can accomplish getting our naughty meter to ring loudly if they toss a barb or two our way, point out our flaws (real or imagined), or lie to us. Santa wouldn’t appreciate that kind of behavior and neither does the naughty or nice meter in all of us.
What this all boils down to is that a nice or naughty meter is an internal mechanism that measures how much we trust a person has our back. If you say what you mean and you mean what you say; and then you do what you said you’re going to do, we trust you and think you’re nice. When you take our feelings into consideration each and every time you talk to or about us, even if you’re telling us something you know we won’t like, we still think you’re nice. If you disagree with us without being disagreeable, we trust that you care; we presume that you’re nice.
If we can’t trust you to tell us the truth, or if you appear to be unconcerned about the impact your words or actions have on us, well, then you’re just naughty. Obviously immoral and illegal things are naughty, but on an interpersonal level we often put lesser considerations into our nice or naughty meters. If you overstate your abilities; if you boast, brag, or talk only about yourself, that’s not nice. There doesn’t seem to be an awful lot of middle ground with these things because often anything that’s “not nice” hits squarely on the naughty end of the meter.
Santa’s meter may be much simpler than our nice or naughty meters; we are complicated beings after all and the way in which we measure such things can be as complex and unique as we are. The one thing we do have in common with the jolly old sort, though, is that we often wish we were all nicer more than we are naughty. Let’s work on that.