What being a nice guy means.

A couple of my friends were discussing nice guys recently. Katie, who opened the conversation by writing a note on Facebook, posted a link to this Ode to Nice Guys and flattered me and some other male friends of hers by tagging us with it. My other friend Kendra politely contrasted the opinion of the piece by posting a link to this half-serious rant about why nice guys are “bleah!”

I’ve thought about this stuff by myself before, and I think that both Katie’s and Kendra’s papers have elements of truth as well as inaccuracy in them. And two goods rants deserve another.

About Katie’s Link

I’ve done all of the things listed in that ode, even the one about consoling somebody by helping them get rid of bothersome rumors by coming up with strategic counter-rumors. I’ve even let a friend use me by bringing me along to a party so they wouldn’t appear to their other friends as being alone or unwanted. And of course, I’ve done the more regular things too, like opening doors and listening to people’s inner struggles with something their boyfriend or “boyfriend candidate” did.

I like that I do those things, but it’s because I like the self-image of being a walking proof of my philosophies instead of just a head-in-the-clouds philosopher. Sure, it’s also partially because I like the self-image of being a “nice guy” in the way that dating sites talk about, but if that was the real motive, then I feel like that would be more of a mercenary niceness than an altruistic niceness, if you know what I mean. I enjoy doing these things, and I like that I am the person that I am.

Also, I don’t even think that those things necessarily describe a genuine nice guy anyway. I can think of several people who I wouldn’t really call the “nice guy” type who go through a lot of those motions. I wouldn’t necessarily go around saying that they were “not nice guys,” but that’s part of it right there. Where do you draw the line between being a likable, polite person and a genuine “nice guy” like what we’re talking about? What quality is it that lets one friendly, polite, and honest person make the bar but not another person who’d be described as friendly, polite, and honest?

Holding open doors, listening to people’s concerns, and even letting the people you love use you selfishly every once in a while sort of as a gift to them are actions. Robots can carry out all of those actions, but obviously they don’t get to be nice guys. Same with people who are routinely nice on the outside but jerks when you get to know them deeper down. So while actions certainly speak louder than words, actions by themselves are inconclusive. Motives matter, for starters.

I’ll put my cards on the table. Yes, I think of myself as a genuine nice guy. But that’s because of how I care for people, not because of how I step aside and smile when I see somebody else coming down the stairs I’m climbing. When I see tragedies on the television, I still get outraged and sad at the same time. When somebody says why they did something, I’m thinking about their intention as much as their result, seeing how it fits with my understanding of right and wrong, and expanding my understanding of right and wrong based on it. My friends can probably see a connection between these things and my politics and ethical beliefs.

That’s part of why I really do think I’m a genuine nice guy. I think about things that have to do with politics, ethics, jurisprudence, theology, and anything else even remotely connected to the idea of “I want to truly know what ‘good’ is because I care about ‘good’ and am drawn to it, and I like reflecting on my own nature so that I can become more and more naturally, reflexively, genuinely good.”

So the actions are a part of it, but feeling real empathy towards people is also critical, and so is a fascination with the struggle to be truly good.

And it all has to be perfectly altruistic, too. You can’t decide how to behave just because it will make other people happy (although the goal of making other people happy is noble and required). You also have to have convictions and behave in accordance with your philosophies even when it isn’t earning you the admiration of others. Sometimes, you’ll be completely misunderstood.

For example, something that bothers me personally is how people tell me sometimes that I come off as arrogant, condescending or a know-it-all. It’s hard to defend against that because so many people think that saying “I’m not arrogant!” is something only an arrogant person could say. I don’t open my mouth unless I know what I’m talking about, and as a result of that, some people only hear me speak confidently about the things I know about and conclude from this that I speak confidently about anything and everything. I wish they would get to know me better and I wish they didn’t think of me the way they do, but I’m not going to start purposely saying stupid things and then call attention to it try to try to balance out when I know what I’m talking about.

So there you go. I think Katie’s paper got a lot right about how nice guys act outwardly, but missed a lot of what’s going on inside them, which becomes more and more important as you get to know them.

About Kendra’s Link

First off, before anybody gets worried about me misunderstanding anything, don’t worry, because I don’t actually think Kendra is in full agreement with the paper she linked to. For all I know, she doesn’t agree or even sympathize with any of it, and she was just posting it to add another some perspective and extra to the conversation.

However, I’d guess that most girls who read what she posted will agree with at least some of what the writer was saying.

At the beginning of the piece, the author makes a point about bad logic.

I get letters from self-professed Nice Guys, complaining that women must WANT to be treated like shit, because THEY, the “Nice Guy” have failed repeatedly in relationships. This is akin to the false logic that “Whales are mammals. Whales live in the sea. Therefore, all mammals live in the sea.”

This is correct, but I actually think the same point could be made about her conclusion about nice guys too. Some nice guys are guilty of all the vices pointed out, but not all of them, as those vices certainly aren’t what defines them as a nice guy anyway. Also, I think that plenty of people who aren’t “nice guys” have these vices too.

But sure, I think that nice guys are particularly prone to a lot of these flaws. Oversensitivity and insecurity are the two that I think are the most likely to plague a nice guy. I’m guilty of them.

As far as being too sensitive goes, that’s related to all the things I was saying about how a genuine nice guy will be fascinated about right and wrong. They will always be trying to hold themselves to high standards, so sometimes when other people don’t treat them as thoughtfully, it hurts. I very, very often feel like I care more about others than they care about me. I get by with this by telling myself to be happy for what they do give me, telling myself not to make comparisons, and reminding myself that I’m not entitled to anything. But every time I fly home and desperately try to see people and they don’t seem to be trying as hard to see me, it sucks. Every time I lend somebody money and let them forget about it, and then when they spot me a dollar and talk about how I owe them, it sucks. I can go on and on.

If you want to, you can just call me a pushover for some of these things. There’s certainly some truth to that, but only because the amount I care for people isn’t reciprocated. If they cared about me the way I cared about them, and if they treated me the way I treated them, then those things wouldn’t happen and nobody would think to call me a pushover. A better criticism would be to say that I’m naive for setting myself up to be disappointed this and unintelligent for letting it happen over and over.

As for insecurity, sure, I’ve got that too. I like myself, even if I think I’m full of flaws. I’m a worrier, but I’m confident in my skills and expertise in some fields (but I certainly don’t think I’m the best in the world at anything, although I still do have some Olympic dreams when it comes to archery, heh). I tend to think too much about things and give negative meanings to things that are actually probably meaningless, but my reflex whenever I’m confronted with any challenge is to identify the different problems that compose it and try to figure out the different logical solutions for them, so I don’t ever curl up and hide.

So sure. I have insecurities. Maybe if I really opened myself up to somebody and talked about them, they would conclude that I have an unhealthy amount of insecurity. But you know what else a lot of nice guys have? Self-discipline. Everybody prides themselves on different things, and for me, one of them is my self-discipline. I can control my composure, and sometimes when I want to do something but am feeling too shy to do it, I’ll swallow hard and just do it. Maybe it’ll take some time to convert courage into action, but if I ever recognize that I’m not doing something because I’m afraid or insecure, then I’ll change my very mentality to help me do whatever it is that I want do it. I just pretend that I’m not afraid of or insecure about whatever it is, and I can usually get so “into character” that it becomes the truth. Another trick I have is to contemplate how irrational the fear or insecurity is.

The paper I read seems to describe nice guys as annoying, whiny, emotionally volatile, clingy, dependent losers incapable of facing any of their problems or the real world itself. Like I said before, I think that this characterization is only true for some nice guys, just like I think it’s true for some people who aren’t nice guys. It’s a weak correlation.

Everybody has flaws, and having stereotypical whiny wussy flaws isn’t what defines somebody as a nice guy.

This entry was posted on Tuesday, April 14th, 2009 at 10:57 pm and is filed under My Life. You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0 feed. Both comments and pings are currently closed.

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