Agreeableness: The Sacrifice of Self

Agreeableness breaks down into Compassion and Politeness. 

Compassionate people are the caring, loving types. They are sympathetic towards other people’s feelings and take an active interest in their friends and families lives. 

Polite people are very careful with their words. They have a deep respect for authority and hate to seem pushy or impose their will on others. 

On the surface agreeableness appears to be largely good, but we need to be alert to the costs that exist at any end of any personality trait spectrum. 

In this case the word costs can be taken literally. There’s a reason why assholes make more money…

Let’s start by talking about what drives agreeableness, before examining those costs and why it is you might want to practise being less agreeable. 

The Maternal Link

One of the biggest differences between men and women among the Big Five personality traits is in agreeableness. Women are a fair bit higher, on average, than men.

For fear of being lynched by the social constructionists, my feeling is biology is the overwhelming factor here.

Pregnancy has, especially historically, placed women in a far more vulnerable position. Even after childbirth, an infant didn’t have access to things like formula. The baby was firmly tied to the mother.

If you hadn’t noticed, infants are quite disagreeable little bastards. What’s particularly annoying is they have every right to be. They are completely and hopelessly dependant.

As a parent you must sacrifice yourself completely.

In the modern age the man can take on that role more and more, but as a tribal hunter-gatherer there really was only one woman for the job. 

But someone had to be the one to go and hunt for dinner. Someone had to to go out and negotiate on behalf of the tribe. 

Disposable Men

I believe these self-evident biological underpinnings manifest themselves in perhaps the biggest difference personality psychologists have found between men and women. The interest in things versus people. 

Male dominated industries include engineering and aviation. Female dominated industries (of which there are many) include teaching, nursing and childcare. 

Now, none of this is to say that social conditioning has nothing to do with the difference, but to deny the role of biology seems to me to be at the other end of ideological extreme. 

It’s worth noting that sex differences in personality have been shown to be larger in more gender equal countries.

Still, it would be remiss not to point that there is far more commonality – far more overlap – between men’s and women’s personalities than differences. I have quite an effeminate set of personality traits, on paper at least. That’s not uncommon. 

If you picked a man and woman off the street at random 4 times out of 10 the women would less agreeable than the man. That’s not insignificant either. 

But these slight trends play out prominently at the extreme ends of the spectrum. 

The vast majority of extremely disagreeable people are men. Extremely low agreeableness is a high predictor of incarceration. There are 15 times as many men in prison as women. 

We tend to look up at those who hold all the power and wealth, of course, but men also dominate the lowest positions in society. 

Disagreeableness cuts both ways.

One theory for this – called the greater male variability hypothesis – argues men are more disposable as they are less likely to reproduce successfully. 

This theory also makes sense when you consider why women are more neurotic on average. Sensitivity to negative emotion is what keeps you alive, even if it does kill your quality of life.

And that’s what an infant needs from its mother most of all: to survive.

The Sacrifice of Self

Placing the gender debate aside, collectively we are much more agreeable than our ancestors among the primatesOne assumes that as we evolved we realised there was far more to be gained from sacrificing on behalf of the tribe.

Of course, the more agreeable you are the more friends you’re likely to have, the more likely those friends will repay your kindness in turn. 

In this sense compassion can be thought of as a negotiating strategy. I’ll share my spoils today so that you’ll share yours tomorrow. That way none of us have to go hungry.

The benefits here are obvious. 

So a far more interesting question is to ask whether you can be too compassionate or too polite? Often it depends towards whom that compassion/politeness is directed, but the answer is most definatey yes!

One pathology associated with high agreeableness is dependant personality disorder – when someone develops a child-like dependance on authority figures because their unable to establish any autonomy of their own. 

In any relationship you want a partner who is similar in temperament when it comes to agreeableness, otherwise it may be a very one-sided affair. 

However, two highly agreeable people need to watch out! If you avoid conflict at all costs, you end up stewing in your own resentment. It builds over time. 

Ultimately a relationship without conflict is doomed. 

Then there’s the tricky issue of determining how much you should sacrifice for your kids. At some point the bird has to leave the nest. The only way a kid can learn to fly is by going solo

If you over-coddle them, or over-structure their lives, they may fail to develop the necessary autonomy to stand on their own two feet. 

This is a story that’s as old as time. Like the child who fights his or her nature to please the parents.

To some extent this is a struggle we all have. Our need to meet the approval of others at the expense of our own identity. 

A Competitive Edge

Disagreeableness correlates strongly with competitiveness.

One way to foster mediocracy among kids is to hand out participation medals at sporting events so no-one has to feel bad.

It defeats the point. So you ask, what’s the point of competition? Well, to get what’s best. Fundamentally, we compete so that we can eat. (When you consider that most games involve hitting some kind of target, it’s quite possible that sport derived from hunting. )

But competition works in reverse. It gets the best (and worst) out of us. But it’s a bit more complicated than that. 

Competition does drive better results but so does working as a team. So, you might conclude, the very best results come from competing as groups. 

This is why I believe sports is so important, especially for children/adolescents. It teaches you to both work as a team and how to negotiate on your group’s behalf. 

If it’s in your nature to sacrifice yourself for others, finding a cause or a group that you’re willing to stand and fight for is a good way to teach you to be more disagreeable.

There’s always a way to stack the personality cards in your favour. 

The other thing sport teaches you is how to lose, how to “take it on the chin.” We undermine that process by doing things like handing out participation medals. But we also undermine that process by instilling a cutthroat win-at-all-costs mentality. 

The most important thing isn’t winning, it’s being allowed to compete again next time. In the game of life that’s what gives you the best chance of success.

The Dark Knight

Let’s finish this post by talking about those who don’t play fair. The so-called assholes who end up ruling the world. Many of them are, of course, but to lie the blame squarely at their feet is to miss the lesson. 

One of the main reasons disagreeable people make more money is because they don’t take things so personally. Of course they might not have many friends, but who cares when you live on a luxury yacht!

Jokes aside, just because someone isn’t personable doesn’t mean they’re bad. And just because someone is nice doesn’t mean they’re good. 

Perhaps it’s us agreeable types that need to develop a bit more backbone?

If you ask me, the world’s isn’t short of nice people. We don’t need more fake niceness in the world. What need are more good people willing to act like assholes. 

What I mean by that is a willingness to upset/be disliked by other people. (Not actually be an asshole.)

The reason we avoid that difficult conversation is because we fear upsetting the other person. That’s what we tell ourselves, at least.

But the brutal and honest truth is – the real reason we don’t want to make other people feel bad – is because that would make us feel bad.

Yet, by avoiding that difficult conversation we become less resilient. We all feel worse (and are worse off) in the long run. 

And none of us are awake.

As a society it seems we’ve forgotten that being offended is actually a choice. It’s not one that should be taken lightly. 

Sticks and stones remember? 

Being offended has little to do with the horrible things someone else has said, but what you believe. It has to do with the expectations you’ve placed on others.

I’ll finish with this thought.

I once heard the remark that success can be measured by the number of difficult conversations one has had. In an increasingly polarised world I believe the success or failure of democracy will be measured by the same yard stick. 

The way to fight the forces of evil – both within and out – is through understanding. To do that we must be willing to have the difficult conversations.

Ultimately this is what the freedom of speech was designed to both protect and promote. It’s the one thing we should all agree on. 

The complete freedom to disagree. 


This is part of a series of posts on the Big Five Personality Traits. Please find previous post below:

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You can find more of AP2’s writing here at: https://pointlessoverthinking.com

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Or on Twitter at: @AnxiousPilot or @PointlessOverT

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Motivational Mondays – 27/07/20

Hello fine readers and welcome to my Motivational Mondays Post – a weekly newsletter that attempts to rewrite the narrative Mondays are the most depressing day of the week. (Or at least start it off in a slightly better fashion.)

Following a 4:3:2:1 approach, it contains 4 exceptional thoughts from me (ha), 3 admittedly better quotes from others, and 2 things I’ve been reading and/or listening to this week that have helped me grow

As always I’ve finished with 1 something silly to hopefully make you all smile. 

Love to all X

(To my lovely readers: If you have any suggestions, thoughts or ideas about today’s weekly post I’d love to hear from you in the comments at the bottom. Thank you all so much for reading.)


4 x Thoughts From Me:

Try not to simply think outside the box, but destroy it entirely. 

The need to be right is the ego equivalent of being on crack. It’s both extremely addictive and extremely damaging. 

Consider thinking less about making money and more about making friends. They can help you in a way that money can’t. How do you make the very best kind of friends? By helping others as a matter of course. 

Maybe we’ve got the order wrong. After school we tell our kids to go straight into university and then straight into a career. At which point so many of us wake up and realise we should have done something else entirely. What if, after school, we sent our children out into the real world so they can experience what it’s really like. To spend a few years getting by on minimum wage or doing volunteer work. To understand what it is to truly struggle. What if we gave them that sort of education first and then asked them what they want their life to be about?


3 x Quotes From Others:

“An eye for an eye will only make the world blind” – Mahatma Gandhi

“The important thing is not what we write but how we write, and in my opinion the modern writer must be an adventurer above all, willing to take every risk, and be prepared to founder in his effort if need be. In other words we must write dangerously.” – James Joyce

Above all, do not lose your desire to walk: Every day I walk myself into a state of well-being and walk away from every illness; I have walked myself into my best thoughts, and I know of no thought so burdensome that one cannot walk away from it.” – Søren Kierkegaard


2 x Things That Helped Me Grow

1 – This fascinating intelligence squared podcast episode –Sex Robots & Vegan Meat, with Jenny Kleeman and Carl Miller. In this episode award-winning journalist Jenny Kleeman discuses the unintended consequences future technologies might have for us in our quest to have the perfect sex, the perfect food, the perfect birth and the perfect death.

MY PERSONAL NOTES AND QUOTES:

  • Sex Robots – “One person’s bright future is another person’s dystopia.”
  • Abyss creations is a multi millions dollar business that makes hyper realistic silicone dolls to have sex with. The man behind it is now introducing animatronics to the dolls to make them as human as possible. Moving towards becoming a companion as much as just a sex robot. 
  • The implications? Claim to be doing this for the lonely – those who have no chance at a real relationship. On the flip side it’s those people who might really need real human contact. Will this really help them?
  • For me the much bigger problem is that people will be able to have relationships where only what they want matters. When you have this sort of relationship where only one side is ever satisfied – real relationships in the real world are going to feel a lot more like hard work. 
  • Vegan meat – “We shut our eyes when we open our mouth.”
  • We know animals often live horrible lives to become our meat. They cause cancer and heart disease. They are a massive contributor to green house gas emissions. Yet it’s still not enough to prevent most of us from eating it. However if we carry on like this we are going to cause our own extinction. Something has to give. 
  • 2 directions we can go. 1 is to eat less meat. The other is to eat the same amount of meat but in another way. 
  • Many tech giants are looking at the second option of growing meat in laboratories. This is different to plant based meats such as impossible burger or beyond meat. What they do is take a culture from a live animal without killing it and then replicate the cells to grow meat. 
  • It’s based on the premise that the ethical argument for eating meat has failed. (As it so often does). It’s better to tell people to eat certain kinds of meat that are better for the environment.
  • Birth – “It was far easier to find people to say on the record they would like to have sex with a robot than it was to find someone say they would like to gestate a baby in a bag.”
  • Using artificial wombs to gestate a baby. Referred to as ectogenesis. The motivation is to improve outcomes for premature babies whereby you can place them back into an artificial womb till they are ready to come out instead of trying to keep them alive in an incubator. 
  • The invention is called the bio bag. It’s like a zip lock bag which they fill with man made amniotic fluid and a cord that attaches to the umbilical cord to oxygenate blood and get rid of carbon dioxide (They had very successful results with lambs back in 2017).
  • The scarier implications are if governments start deciding whether a mother can be trusted to gestate her own baby. Although it could be looked at as a great equaliser. Both sexes just supply what’s needed and the women don’t have to suffer in their careers as a result. 
  • However I feel this “weakness” that we have is something that men unequivocally don’t have. To harbour and carry life. It’s also a source of strength. The essence of what it means to be a women. I think if we give this up it may actually be more beneficial to men than to women. Even in the most misogynistic societies women are respected for their ability to give life.
  • These inventions are going to exist either way. It is up to us as to whether we buy them or not. 
  • The question to ask is do we really need this technology or do we already have the answers?
  • I found it empowering to realise that we already have the power in our hands. It’s just that it’s going to be harder work than just buying for something. But isn’t that what will make us stronger? 

2 – This fantastic TEDxFolkestone Talk with Tim Box on the importance of having anxiety and how to stop feeling anxious about anxiety. “What would the world look like if no one had anxiety? The truth is that anxiety is a necessary emotion that helps steer us towards happiness. I would like to explore what a world without anxiety would look like, and why that isn’t necessarily a good thing. How there are only two types of people free from anxiety; psychopaths and the dead.” If you struggle with anxiety the following is well worth your time:


1 x Silly Thing To Make You Smile:

I’m struggling for a good story this week folks so instead I’m gonna leave you with the following meme that sums up my feelings about racism and prejudice.


Till next week…

Have a Happy Fucking Monday Everybody!

P.S. Don’t forget to exercise your silly muscle this week!

One bonus question for you all:

Is it better to live as a coward or die as a hero?


PREVIOUS MONDAY POSTS:

Motivational Mondays – 20/07/20

Motivational Mondays – 13/07/20

Motivational Mondays – 06/07/20

Happy F***ing Mondays – 29/06/20

Happy F***ing Mondays – 22/06/20

Happy F***ing Mondays – 15/06/20

Happy F***ing Mondays – 08/06/20

Happy Silly Mondays – 25/05/20

Happy Silly Mondays – 18/05/20

Happy Silly Mondays – 11/05/20