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Life Through Dance

The Value in Being Agreeable

By Elizabeth Dickinson

In third grade, I experienced a vivid encounter after I was eliminated in a class game. Although disappointed, I continued to cheer on my remaining classmate competitors.

My teacher, Mrs. Theroux, called me to her desk privately to acknowledge me for being agreeable, with tears in her eyes. I was somewhat discombobulated by her reaction, but I never forgot it. It was an experience where I was recognized unexpectedly for something I took for granted.

As an adult, I learned cooperation, friendliness, consideration, and helpfulness are all part of the scientific definition of agreeableness.

Agreeableness is the single most important trait for getting along with others. It is tied to the ability to control impulses and regulate undesirable emotions like anger and frustration. Not coincidentally, impulse control is located in the same region as our executive attention mode.

If you have a child (or adult) in whom you’d like to develop emotional regulation and impulse control, I recommend providing lots of positive reinforcement when she or he demonstrates agreeableness (like my third-grade teacher).

While I don’t recommend adopting an agreeable attitude to everyone and everything and betraying important personal values, there is no doubt that society improves when people show basic civility to each other. (However, don’t think it’s desirable to act like a doormat when faced with consistent bad behavior.)

A more challenging aspect of agreeableness is resisting the impulse to assign bad motivations to the person who unexpectedly cuts you off in traffic, or to the one who doesn’t follow through on a commitment, or to the person who forgets to use common courtesies like saying please and thank you. Or perhaps when your dance parter cancels practice, or someone declines your invitation to samba at a social dance, or steps on your toes.

To be agreeable exists in both external and internal capacities. Which one is most challenging for you? Do you find it easier to demonstrate external cooperation and consideration but secretly feel judgmental about others’ actions?

In the next month and for all of next year, I encourage you to challenge yourself. Where could you act more agreeably to promote peace inside and outside yourself?

May we pursue our paths, recognizing the social and personal value in being agreeable.