Whenever someone begins to proudly speak of a man that they know as a “nice guy”, internally I will raise an eyebrow and become a little concerned. What does that really mean, “nice guy”?? Frequently if you begin to poke around looking for more information, you will discover that “nice guy” is trying to mean, not a “jerk”, or “bad boy”, both of which most men are on the look out not to be, and many women are on the look out not to become involved with.
So, what does it really mean to be a “jerk” or “bad boy”? Most people can rattle off a long list of unpleasant characteristics or behaviour patterns that are familiar and consistent with these unfortunate men. They are self-centered, inconsiderate, losers, have big egos, poor judgment, bad tempers and anger issues that sometimes erupt into violence; they often try too hard to be “macho”, and the list could go on. The real issue however, is not so different from what shapes the men who offer themselves up as “nice guys”. The sad state of affairs in the society and culture that we live in is that men are very well trained to shut themselves off from their feelings and emotions. Classically, they are not supposed to ever cry, they are not supposed to be swayed by emotion, they are supposed to be, “strong”, in all the permutations of the meaning of that word. So, “nice guys” are “strong” in that they tune out from themselves and defer to everyone else around them. “Bad boys” or “jerks” are “strong” in that they too do so well in tuning out from their emotional selves that they are also tuned out from every one else and have lost all connection of what it means to be a human being with feelings and emotions. Nice guys or bad boys have different strategies, and yet their strategies both stem from the same root.
As I describe this, my heart sinks fearing that I will put off and deeply offend all those good guys who really do want to be “nice”. That is obviously not my intention. It is my wish to offer a more genuine approach to our humanity; whether you are man, woman, or anything in between. It is precisely in trying too hard to not have any emotion that gets both bad boys and nice guys into the same kind of trouble. This is possibly a long way around challenging what it really means to be nice. Too often people think they are being “nice” if they defer to someone else. Deferring may temporarily avoid a conflict or small dispute, but it is not always the most honest response that could be offered to a situation. Eventually it catches up with us showing up as consequences that, in the end, are not so nice. And, even if in any particular situation the ending does not turn out terribly, if you are trying to forge relationship with someone by not disclosing your truth, is that really the nicest way to offer yourself up? In many ways a nice guys deference is just the flip side of the behaviour of a “jerk” or bad boy”. The common denominator becomes the significant difficulty that prevents honest disclosure, in small and not such small situations. When emotions are squandered, unaccounted for, flattened, or denied, inevitably they will show up somewhere. Possibly as anger, resentment, or cut off from people; sometimes as illness; sometimes as acting out with poor, unskillful, and even violent behaviours; sometimes merely as confusion or a general feeling of discontent. So be careful of either creating yourself as too nice, or of encouraging others in your life to be “nice”. Better yet: rethink nice. Maybe it really is “nice” to risk a conflict in the name of honesty.
I would like to offer that this issue is not a purely gendered issue unique to men. There is a truth however, to the extent to which men are encouraged and well trained in denying themselves that creates a setting that encourages the very difficult pattern I have described here. This is a topic worthy of much greater space and of broad exploration.