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A Real Winner

A recent study in the Journal of Personality and Social Psychology has concluded that men who are nice (or “agreeable” as the study describes them) make as much as $7,000 less a year than those who are more ruthless. According to the study, “disagreeable” men are those who “aggressively advocate for their position during conflicts.”

In contrast, “agreeable” men are those who are known as “trustworthy, straightforward, compliant, altruistic, modest, and tender-minded.”

In a Wired magazine entitled “Do Nice Guys Finish Last?” Jonah Lehrer writes, “When it comes to success, we assume that making it to the top requires ethical compromises ... the point is that those who win at the game of life don’t obey the same rules as everyone else.”

Now, while I doubt most successful people engage in ethical compromises, you can probably point to some, shall we say, who don’t “play nicely with others.”

Take Apple icon Steve Jobs, who passed away earlier this year from pancreatic cancer. Lauded by Time magazine as “technology’s great reinventor,” Jobs and his creativity have impacted nearly all of us — from Pixar to the iPhone. He ended life with $8.3 billion in the bank. But as his biographer Walter Isaacson said in an interview with NPR, Jobs was “a tough customer, very demanding ... he divided everybody into heroes and dunces ... he could be brutal.”

Here’s the problem: It’s one thing to assert that those who make the most money are will do whatever it takes to succeed, even if it means running over a few people in the process. But it’s another thing entirely to equate financial gain with true success.

A colleague of mine just heard of a man named Brendan who left his career in the construction industry, liquidated his retirement savings, and moved his family to South Africa to work at an orphanage for HIV/AIDS orphans. Brendan says he remembers the days when he would lay his head on the pillow at night, knowing that he had worked hard to make money for himself and his family. Now he goes to sleep knowing that more than 120 children are loved, healthy, and safe.

I’d say that is a good bit closer to true success.

Now I’m not saying that making good money is a bad thing. Nor am I suggesting that everyone move to Africa. And I am definitely not saying that being truly successful requires being weak or timid. (Nobody, especially my grandmother, would accuse me of being either.) And in fact, many of those who committed their lives to redemptive causes were extremely determined and passionate individuals.

William Wilberforce, for instance, who fought to abolish the British slave trade, was everything but diffident. The difference is that he was fighting for the good of others, not his own agenda.

The point is this: Money is a faulty measuring stick for assessing a good life. Rather, a good life — as I describe in my book by the same title — is one lived by those who follow what Christ says, “Whoever wants to save his life will lose it, whoever loses his life for my sake will find it.”

And if being “trustworthy, straightforward, and tender-minded,” which Wired magazine and some psychologists seem to say turns you into a loser, the world then, it seems to me, needs more losers.

Chuck Colson's daily BreakPoint commentary airs each weekday on more than one thousand outlets with an estimated listening audience of one million people. BreakPoint provides a Christian perspective on today's news and trends via radio, interactive media and print.

Publication dateFebruary 14, 2012

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