Thinking Your Way Through a Labyrinth of Contemporary Issues

Manipulation of society, and the myth of the inherently ‘nice person’.


Manipulation in society regularly happens. We just need to accept there is no greater reference point for manipulation than the average ‘nice’ person.

Any man who tries to be good all the time is bound to come to ruin among the great number who are not good. Hence a prince who wants to keep his authority must learn how not to be good, and use that knowledge, or refrain from using it, as necessity requires.”

― Niccolò Machiavelli, THE PRINCE 1469 – 1527     

The quote above is testament to the belief that it may at times be necessary to not always be nice in the conventional sense however the reality is that when we meet someone who is supposedly ‘nice’, on many occasions nothing could be further from the truth in many cases. Nice people can in fact be worse with their manipulation then their proclaimed nasty counterparts who are supposed to be ‘bad’. I will be arguing that we have to be very weary of so called ‘nice people’.

  Lessons about the ‘nice’ person and ‘Conditional Love.’

While growing up and watching films there were two types of people I was aware of – those that I considered ‘nice people’ and those that were considered ‘bad’. Of course as I got older I realized it was never this simple. There are many different types of people and of course depending on what mood somebody is in, this will decide whether we view them as a nice person or a bad person. Let us just assume for the time being though that there really are just two types of people, those that are nice and those that are bad. Our assumption would be that the nice person would be friendly and welcoming and helpful and a pleasure to be around. We would also assume that if we met a bad person they would have various characteristics such as being selfish, narcissistic, possibly miserable and certainly not a pleasure to be around. The problem is though that even if we had these two simple categories of people we still could not apply it to the reality of life.

There are a substantial number of problems with putting someone in the ‘nice’ category, they may be nice to you and nasty to others (though that may suit your needs). The biggest problem though is the manipulation that goes on with many ‘nice people’. Achieving a means to an end by appearing nice is often the script used by retailers, sales people and many other people. Most of us are becoming increasingly aware of the situation surrounding these types of manipulative people and we are preparing to make the appropriate psychological adjustments when meeting someone new who is interested in selling us a product. We can often look beyond them being nice and choose whether to purchase a product or service on the merits of whether it will be beneficial to us. Do not misunderstand me however, there is nothing better than walking into a shop or being on the phone to someone who is being nice to us and who is being helpful, though if they are very pretentious it may be time to walk away or put the phone down. We just need to continually be on our guard as to why we are choosing this service or this product. The average ‘nice’ person is like the proverbial oceanic iceberg you only see 10% of the iceberg and with the ‘nice’ person you likewise only see 10% of their ideas and agenda.

The worst manipulation of being nice is increasingly taking place in both the workforce and society in general. There are those who are promising us infinite opportunities in the workplace and then failing to deliver, there are those (even loved ones on occasions) who are being nice under the guise of conditional love for us. Conditional love being the pretence that is needed when a person doesn’t love someone for their partners personal merits, more their stature and what they can offer the other person. An example in this instance would be a banker who is married to an attractive model who may only be with her for her looks – a condition of him being nice to her. Also the model may be with the banker for the wealth he can provide – another condition that is one of the many faces of manipulation. There is nothing to say this imaginary couple may be even nice to each other but for our benefit we will stick with this theoretical argument and assume that is the case. Of course they may be considered the typical couple (bar their high status) and just argue now and again but have a deep and meaningful relationship. Though there is every chance that they may be as mentioned be with one another on the basis of conditional love.

2 books of manipulation-  The 48 Laws of Power vs. How to Win Friends and Influence people

While reading Dale Carnegie’s How to win friends and influence people it struck me with the perceived excellent people skills you could gain from this book, the billionaire Warren Buffet is clearly a fan yet there is a flaw when reading this book for those unaware. The problem is that in reality though Dale Carnegie’s work is impressive and the world would be a better place in some instances if people were to read this book, it does however unfortunately rely on manipulation. The book remains a bestseller and is one of those rare self-help books that would actually benefit you. Yet at the heart of the book manipulation remains the essential component in mastering the art of ‘winning friends and influencing people’. For the most part I would argue we do often pretend to be nice and rightfully so we want people to like us. Yet we should accept and embrace this fact as in reality it is not possible to be truly ‘nice’ all the time. With the exceptions of Mother Teresa and other selfless people, the human condition relies on us manipulating situations. We must accept and embrace this fact as opposed to pretending we are purely ‘nice’ without a desired outcome being needed.

More recently though, a book by Robert Greene has gone very much in the way of showing the reality behind certain situations and what the ‘best’ course of action to take is – if you are seeking power. Though we know that if we work in a corporate environment we will inevitably come across others seeking power so we need to be aware of those looking to improve their positions. Robert Greene’s book is a refreshing look at the reality of many societal relations and their implications. The 48 Laws of power may be unpopular with those unwilling to listen to an amoral argument, yet unfortunately that is the reality of everyday life and it certainly makes a change from some of the pretentious people who we encounter regularly who are supposed to be ‘nice and have ‘good people skills’. Robert Greene’s book is the true reality of the world and unfortunately we may have to pay more attention when we decipher between what makes a nice person and what makes a good person.


The controversial book – The 48 Laws of Power.

Some of Robert Greene’s chapters include the following:

Chapter 8 Make other people come to you- use bait if necessary

Chapter 13 When asking for help, appeal to people’s self-interest, never to their mercy or gratitude.

Chapter 27 Play on people’s need to believe to create a cultlike following.

Chapter 42 Strike the Shepard and the sheep will scatter.

As you can see from the chapters (assuming you haven’t already read the book) there are strong controversial statements. Of course many people will view these chapters and believe they are selfish in their aims and objectives and are the complete opposite of what a ‘nice’ person would do. Yet for the most part these chapters are the reality of what many a ‘nice’ person would do for power. They represent the reality of life as well as articulating many of the manoeuvres somebody would do under the guise of being ‘nice’. If you are not yet convinced by this argument please read on.

The Milgram Experiment

The 1961 Milgram experiment was originally set-up to show how people in Nazi Germany would continually obey orders when told to do so, even when these orders became extremely questionable for civilization. Though there would have been concerns to follow orders in Nazi Germany irrespective of simple obedience. For example the threat of what may happen made most people continue orders irrespective of those harmful outcomes. However the experiment has since been repeated numerous times and the same findings have generally been found that people are willing to go to great lengths to ensure orders are obeyed, this is where the idea comes from that people with the ‘nice’ personalities are the ones most likely to agree to extremely questionable decisions.


The inherently ‘nice’ person comes in to question when we consider the events of Nazi Germany.

The Milgram experiment is based on people who have volunteered to ask participants in a separate room questions. If the participants answer a question wrong the volunteers are told to administer an electric shock. The volunteers do not know of course that they are not actually administering electric shocks, they are only made to believe so. The willingness of the participants to obey the orders is subject to the demands of the person ordering the electric shocks. The experiment goes along way in explaining the psyche of those past and present who have and will continue to have a willingness to obey orders even when they are causing harm to others. Unfortunately for the nice person this may be their very downfall.

A study in Psychology Today back’s up the claim that nice people are in many instances the worst offenders for obeying orders as Kenneth Worthy a Psychology Today explains:

“People with more agreeable, conscientious personalities are more likely to make harmful choices. In these new obedience experiments, people with more social graces were the ones who complied with the experimenter’s wishes and delivered electric shocks they believed could harm an innocent person.” “By contrast, people with more contrarian, less agreeable personalities were more likely to refuse to hurt other people when told to do so.”

Essentially perhaps what makes someone genuinely nice is when they are willing to do the right thing even when society and orders from above say the opposite. Being ‘nice’ is a double-edged sword in context of the appropriateness of being ‘nice’ in any given situation. Being ‘nice’ may in fact be society’s very downfall. When the Milgram experiment is repeated with the same variables and orders are demanded to be carried out, the same results are found with 50% of people agreeing to continue administering electric shocks at the expense of the person being shocked. Simply because a man in a white coat is telling them to do so as Derren Brown’s repetition of the Milgram experiment demonstrates below:

We often talk of doing the right thing in society and most of us are pretty confident that if we were to be knocked down on the road, or attacked in the street someone would probably come to help. Doing good deeds in society is something that we are sure we will always see. But we must remember that the inherently nice person – while not being quite a myth is a more of an exception than the general rule. Robert Greene’s 48 Laws of Power goes along way in explaining the reality of manipulation in society. Dale Carnegie’s book on How to Win Friends and Influence people rightfully remains popular but in all truth there is not much difference in aims of both of the books. The Milgram experiment remains a very important observation in understanding a truly good person and a nice person. When we see the nice person we should accept them, we should however not let our guard down.

Oliver Wilson, (2015)

3 comments on “Manipulation of society, and the myth of the inherently ‘nice person’.

  1. Matt Brown
    September 3, 2015

    Well said! I have thought for many years that people view “good and “bad” in black and white terms and so called “evil” people always do the wrong thing. I think that a person can be “good” in some ways and “bad” in others. society tends to have a ranking order for “good” and “bad” traits. IE being a good listener is ranked far higher than being a hard worker in your job/vocation.
    Yet I think there is no such thing as a bad trait. A person who is really self centered and sarcastic can be well loved and make money. (Jack Dee for example) It’s all about how they use their talents.

    I also agree with you that a “good” person is just as manipulative as a “bad” one. If I were to persuade you to dump your wife and go down the pub with the lads, people would say I’m a manipulative so and so. If I persuaded you to spend more time with your wife, then people see this as a good thing. Both are bad because I am getting you to do my evil bidding either way!

    Liked by 1 person

  2. nataliescarberry
    September 11, 2015

    Thank you for visiting my blog and for liking one of my posts! Blessings, Natalie 🙂

    Liked by 1 person

    • Matt Brown
      October 26, 2015

      it’s a good post. It’s a subject i’ve thought about a lot over the years. Excelent site by the way

      Liked by 2 people

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