Q: What’s more important, being nice or being self-interested?
A: It’s good to be nice. Being nice is more often in one’s self-interest than not. For example: Are you more willing to spend your money at a business who treats its customers nicely or who treats its customers rudely? Are you more likely to be friends with people who are nice to you or rude to you? The answer is obvious. Niceness can pay for those who engage in it.
However, situations certainly exist where there will be dilemmas between niceness and self-interest. In such situations, self-interest trumps niceness. This is the only way to live a mentally healthy, happy life. It’s also the only way to live with integrity. If you let niceness trump what’s objectively in your interest, then you are engaging in false relationships with people. If you loan money that you don’t have or don’t want to loan, secretly resenting what you’re doing, then you are not acting with integrity. If you let somebody manipulate you into paying their dinner bill (“Oh, I didn’t get to the bank machine because I wanted to be on time for you–can you pick up my portion?”), you are not acting with integrity. You are, in effect, communicating to people that what they do is OK with you when you know that it is not OK with you. If these people are unimportant strangers, why do you make accommodations for them that are unfair to yourself? If you are involved in important relationships with them, then why are you being a phony?
Self-interest trumps niceness–whenever there’s a dilemma between the two. However, there’s not always a dilemma between the two. Those who assume there’s always a dilemma between the two turn into either self-sacrificing, miserable martyrs or unnecessarily rude, hostile and insensitive people. Assume you can be self-interested and nice unless there’s evidence to the contrary. When there is a conflict, choose self-interest.