Resolution for New Year: No More “Mr. Nice”

I’ve made a New Year’s Resolution for 2013:  I will no longer try to be “Nice”.

Now, I’ve spent my entire life actively trying to be nice.  Honestly… I don’t even know why.  I look at how I was raised, and the schools I went to… and I have no clue where I even got the inspiration to want to be nice in the first place.  Sure, we always “heard” that we had to “be nice”, but the actions I witnessed always seemed to tell the exact opposite.  Any small courtesy I tried to show people wasn’t usually returned with the same.  Usually… it just became an advertisement of being a target for bullies. (I honestly cringe at the thought of what would have happened if there was Facebook around when I was in High School.)  My four years of High School… I don’t know if there was anything that “being nice” got me, except embarrassment, pain and rejection.  Why didn’t I change?

The only thing I can think of is that the trifecta of The Muppets, Fraggle Rock, and Charlie Brown must have had an overly-profound impact on me.  You may be laughing, but I’d say there’s a 94% chance that’s a non-exaggerated truth.

In The Muppet Show, I saw characters who were always trying… and usually failing.  Gonzo with his acts of insanity artistic genius, but never fully working being appreciated.  Fozzie with his horrible jokes, and constantly being heckled and insulted by those two old A-holes Statler and Waldorf (Yes, they’re lovable coots… but they were still A-holes).  Miss Piggy, with her grand diva-ness, making a grand entrance… and suddenly grandly tripping down the stairs.  Kermit trying to keep everything together and running smoothly… and it inevitably gets out of hand and becomes a disaster.  But amidst it all, they were silly, they had fun, and were always there for each other, trying to make a great show.  In that backstage world… No one hated each other, no one was overly cruel… and if they accidentally were mean, they apologized sincerely, and with meaningful gestures (usually a sweet song).

Fraggle Rock was even more so.  All of the Fraggles were nice to each other… that was simply “their way”.  They got mad, frustrated, and all of that… but they were always there for each other and treated everyone well.  Even if they were afraid of them… even if they had every reason to hate something, should that something be in trouble, they would still help.  Not wanting anything in return… doing it because they loved to help and liked being nice.  That’s a beautiful thing.

(It’s not a coincidence that both are Jim Henson projects.  I feel strongly similar about all of his projects, and am an eternal fan.)

With Charlie Brown, I felt like I found a kindred spirit.  He always fails, but more importantly, he keeps trying.  No matter how much he’s bullied and berated by the others… he’s always nice and courteous to them.  He did no wrong by anyone, yet they called him Wishy-Washy for it, and adults gave him rocks on Halloween for it.  (Seriously… who the bloody hell would give a child ROCKS on Halloween?  What kind of a sociopathic neighborhood did he live in?)  Come to think of it… maybe Charlie Brown is the opposite argument for those very reasons.  “If you be nice to everyone, they’ll make your life miserable.”  Somehow, I got the “be nice” message.

Yet, it still never paid off.  When the other kids see my Charlie-Brown like actions, they’d ask, “Why do you do that stuff?”  I say, “Just trying to be nice.”  Then, it was inevitably met with “Nice Guys Finish Last.”

Those words have been drilled into me time and time again.  And I *know* it rings true all too often.  I’ve seen it, experienced it, and been consistently frustrated by it.  But the weird thing is… I was okay with it.

Having been on the receiving end of people being A-holes, I’ve told myself several times, “I do not ever want to make someone else feel this way.”  Because I knew how horrible it was, and I could never think of intentionally inflicting that onto another.  I was never one to feel better with the role-reversal or revenge.  Maybe its empathy, maybe its guilt, I don’t know.

But being nice… DID make me feel good.  I know, its cliché, and seems like something in a badly-written kindergarten after-school special.  But I genuinely felt some warm fuzzies by performing an act of niceness.  It wasn’t because “Jeebus told me to”, or because “Karma will pay me back later”, and especially not because “This person can benefit me later.”  All of those… I don’t think are very good reasons.  If Jeebus told you to do something… It doesn’t sound like you could be trusted to do it on your own.  If you think Karma will pay you back… that seems a bit like a selfish reason.  You’re only doing something because you think you’ll be benefited later.  If you didn’t believe in Karma, would the other person be crap-outta-luck?  That’s doubly so with the last one… you’re expecting to benefit later, but just admitting it up front.

Well, I’m not religious in any way… and I don’t believe in Karma, either.  I always thought that the niceness wasn’t a means to an end… it was an end itself.  Because of that, I even attested that my niceness was, technically, selfish.  I like feeling good… being nice makes me feel good.  So to feel good, I’m nice.  With Karma, it’s an extra step.  “I’m doing something nice, so later something nice will be done to me… and I’ll feel good.”  My way was more efficient, frankly.

So I did all the “little things”.  Giving up my seat on a train or bus for someone else.  (The elderly, a pregnant woman, even a non-pregnant woman, or someone that just looked too dang tired), opening doors for others, picking things up for people that they’ve dropped… and I just called those things “Common Courtesy”.  Little things that everyone should be doing, and cost next-to-no effort.

Then, I looked out for the bigger things… the things that you have to go legitimately “out-of-your-way” to do.  The things people ask you to do… walk them home, run an errand for them, help move, etc.  Chances are, if you’re asking me to do something like that, we’re friends… and I would do absolutely anything for my friends.  But I’ve been asked of things like that by people who weren’t really “friends”… but I did it anyway.  Why?  Honestly… because they needed it.  The pleasure I got from being “nice” was actually secondary.  I was no longer thinking “this will make me feel good”… but rather, “They need help?  I’m there.”  My own convenience and pleasure became an afterthought.  (That’s partly why I think I’ve got a bit of a “superhero complex”.)

Now, I’ve still made all the cliché complaints:  “Women don’t want a nice guy, they only want the A-holes.”  “Oh, no… I’ve been friendzoned!”, “Everyone says they want a guy like me, but they don’t want *me*!”, and of course, “Why do they complain there are no nice guys, when I’m right here!” 

I admit, these are just statements of frustration about my horrible luck.  Ultimately, if a woman doesn’t want to go out with me… then she doesn’t have to.  That’s her choice, not a pattern of abused thinking.  (Granted, I wish some of them would *tell* me that instead of just not returning my phone calls… but I digress.)  I’ve never been able to get actually angry about it… only sad.  (The one type of Love I know the most about is the Unrequited kind.)  Because I know it really is “Luck”… and with my introverted personality, it can be a touch more difficult to really connect with someone in a romantic way early on.  So, I lick my wounds, feel bad for myself, question my masculinity, spout a few of the cliché complaints to let off steam, and in about a week or so, I’m back to normal, giggling incessantly at The Muppet Show. (You have your rejection-recovery system… I have mine.)

(By the way… a word about the “friendzone”:  No, it’s not inherently a “bad thing” to be “just a friend”.  But keep in mind, if we meet, have a date, and you decide you just want to be friends… that is basically starting a friendship on a rejection.  And as I am someone who is *extremely* careful about the friendships I do cultivate, that’s not exactly a comfortable way to start, especially if I was getting my hopes up.  Please realize that’s probably not going to happen.  Nobody’s fault… it just happens that way.  If we’re already friends for a good period beforehand, try it, and it doesn’t work… then maintaining the friendship afterwards is easier… I just need a little time to lick my wounds, feel bad, question my blah blah, etc.  Okay?)

Through all the (numerous) rejections in my time, I’ve still tried to maintain the “nice” part of me.  But you know… I never really liked saying the word.  Something about declaring myself as a “nice guy” always felt a little fake. I’ve done it on occasion, but it never sat right in my craw.  It’s a bit like a knighthood… you can’t declare yourself a knight and put “Sir” in front of your name.  Someone else has to call you that.

Yet at the same time… I got a little competitive over it.  I figured, “if I was going to be rejected over being “Nice” (socially and romantically), so be it… that’s who I am, reality be darned.”  So, I buckled in and wanted to embrace it.  But then I start hearing murmurings of some other guy… another “nice” guy.  Women that I had crushes on gave him high recognition as a “nice guy”, talked glowingly about him… and then say the dreaded sentence:  “He’s the nicest guy in the world!”

That… has always been a red flag to me.  I admit… there’s a good chance it’s jealousy.  But when I’ve gone out of my way, throughout my whole life, to try and be “nice”, and always do the right thing… hearing of someone that has apparently beaten me at the “Nice Guy Olympics” (Because that statement is an absolute… there can’t be 2 “nicest guy” winners) is… well, a bit jarring.  Especially, if he is seemingly being celebrated for that which I was always rejected for.  Now, sure… the statement was maybe a bit of hyperbole, and I don’t know if anyone was saying that about me to other people.  But for probably the only time in my life… I actually felt competitive about this.  If I finally got to meet this mystery “nice guy”, it was always with a very critical eye.  Most of the time I came up with the conclusion, “He’s not that nice.”  Oftentimes… I thought they were A-holes.  Maybe a couple of those were unfounded, and spurned by jealousy… but mostly, I would see genuine evidence of A-holishosity (Yes, that’s a word.  Now.).  It actually drove me a little nuts to think that THIS individual is seen as “nicer” than me.

A friend of mine in Grad School once told me of a survey he read about something like this.  (I don’t know the source, so as far as I know, this is not much better than anecdotal, but anyway…)  Some sociology class set-up an experiment.  They brought in people to give responses, and had them meet up to 4 different kinds of people.  The first was someone who was nice and pleasant for the entire interaction.  Second was someone who was a Jerk for the entire interaction.  Third was someone who started off as a Jerk, but then became nice during the interaction.  And finally, was someone who started off as Nice, but then became a jerk.

According to the findings of this survey… they found that the individuals who started off as a jerk, and became nice were perceived as then being MORE nice than the people who were nice the whole time.  Likewise, those who started off as nice and became a Jerk, were then seen as a BIGGER Jerk than the Jerk who was a Jerk the whole time.  That concept blew my mind.  It was the first time I actually said to myself, “Have I *really* been doing it wrong this whole time?  Is that why Assholes are seen as Nice people?”  What the hell????

Now, believe me… I see the irony here.  The very fact of getting jealous and a raised ire do not seem to be traits of a “Legitimate Nice-Guy”.  Well, guess what?

Niceness is not a benchmark of Perfection.

I have always tried to be nice, but I also try to be aware of my mistakes and flaws.  In no way have I tried to be perfect.  There are a couple of times; I’ve been the one to do the rejecting.  I’ve neglected to follow-up on what could have been a good thing with someone, and in doing so, did not show the respect to that someone who should have received it.  I’ve had a few times where I willingly let my ego get in the way.  I’ve said mean things that I haven’t regretted, and I’ve even had to purposefully turn on the “A-hole” switch a couple times in life.  (I never liked doing it… and I hated myself afterwards, but at the time, I determined it had to be done.)  I know I can’t please everybody all the time, and on rare occasions, you need to make people hate you.

Maybe that will be easier now.

And maybe you’re saying, “Wait, if you genuinely enjoyed the experience of helping people, of being courteous and all that… why stop being Nice?”

Hey, I didn’t say I was planning to become an Asshole.  I don’t even *want* to change anything about my personality right now.  I’ve just been thinking a lot lately, and in my reflections, I’m seeing a none-to-pleasant trend:

The large majority of “Nice Guys” are total douchebags.

I don’t just mean the ones I had experience with in the past.  There’s a website on Tumblr called “Nice Guys of OkCupid”.  (It seems to be down as of this writing, but a quick Google search will pop up several articles and examples talking about it.)  It has their picture, the part on their profile where they talk about being a “Nice Guy”, and a selection of some of the “Match Questions” and their answers.  It’s the “Match Question” part where most of them reveal they are not exactly “nice”.  Rather, they are a bit misogynist, homophobic, racist or even a potential rapist.

One of the questions is a statement: “No means NO!”, and the answers to select from are degrees of agreement or disagreement.  So when some “Nice Guy” answers, “A No is just a Yes that needs a little encouragement”, suddenly the bile starts to rise in my throat.  Same happens when an inordinate number of them answer “Yes” to the question “Do you feel there are any circumstances in which a person is obligated to have sex with you?”

Now, I do take some solace in the fact, that my own answers to those questions have already been answered… and they are all widely different than these tools.  I guess I just took it for granted, thinking that it was shockingly obvious that no one ever “owes” me sex.  (I wouldn’t even want it if it’s only being offered out of obligation.  What fun is that?)

I realized… THESE are the people that share the label I’ve been trying for my whole life?  Seriously?  I got depressed, because technically, these guys are “my peers”.  No thank you.  Not anymore… I’m seceding.  I’m getting rid of the “Nice Guy” label.

First part to go… the “Guy” part.  I don’t know about you, but I feel like there’s a distinct difference between “Guy” and “Man”.  I think “Guy” implies something more of a college-aged mentality.  With bikini-calendars, and posters covering the walls.  Neither of which I’ve had since I was in Undergrad in the late 90s.  During calendar- shopping season, I’ve on occasion considered, “Maybe I’ll get one of those with the pretty ladies this year…” but quickly switch to, “Nah… I’m long over that.”  The prospect of a cool travel-themed one just seems more entertaining to me to look at every day.  (Besides, air-brushed models aren’t as attractive to me anymore.  Reality is sexier.)  As for posters… I don’t think I’ve had one on a wall since before my first apartment in California.  Any picture on my wall is in a frame.

“Man” sounds more mature, and that’s appealing.  Maybe it’s an “alpha” kind of idea… but growing up, I always thought about the “Man I want to be”, not “The Guy I’ll probably end up”.  And yes, even though I read comics, quote from The Muppets and Monty Python, and squee when I watch a new Doctor Who episode… I do try to think of myself as a somewhat mature(ish) “Man”.

So, it’s “Man” over “Guy”… and I certainly don’t want to be an asshole.  Therefore, instead of being a “Nice Man”… I think I’ll just try to be a Good one.

I like the term “Good Man”.  A Good Man implies having a sense of honor.  A Good Man may not always do the nice and pleasant thing… but will always try to do the “Right” thing.  Won’t always succeed… but will at least try.  (And the “Right” thing is rarely the Nice, Happy thing.)  That’s something I wouldn’t mind seeing on my tombstone.  “Here lies a Good Man.”

When I really think about it… maybe that’s what I’ve been shooting for all along.  Being “fair” has always been important to me; If I had a choice of being really nice to one person (which meant screwing over someone else), or being “fair” to both, with not particularly nice to either… I tended to go with “fair”.  I felt like that was the better long-term solution.  The times I’ve had to turn on the “Asshole Switch”… I did it because I was trying to be fair.

So that’s what I’m doing, trying to be the Man I want to be:  A Good Man.  Maybe I’m there already, but that’s not my call to make.  I hope I never stop striving for it.

Yes, this does mean that I’m not actually changing anything about my personality… I’m just changing the terminology I use.  Frankly, I think that’s a much easier New Year’s Resolution to make… and those are my favorite.

Nice guys may finish last… but a Good Man doesn’t need to make it a race.

Happy New Year, everyone!