The “nice” man and the virtuous man

I saw a series of tweets this morning that really got me thinking.

There’s an old saying you have probably heard – “Nice guys finish last.” Over the years, there’s been a fair amount of cashing in on this questionable adage. Websites like Return of Kings (“for masculine men!”) that will make a real man out of you and have you sleeping with a different 9 or 10 every other week. Books like No More Mr. Nice Guy, which will help you land that VP job and marry the supermodel.

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Part of the problem, I think, rests with the word itself. “Nice.” What, exactly, does it mean? The dictionary definition seems to hover around something like “pleasant; agreeable.” Let’s go with that, then, for now. Mr. Johnson who lives down the street is a nice man. He always smiles and says “good morning” and “good evening,” and he shovels snow for old Mrs. Daily.

Niceness, moderated by virtue, is a good quality (I don’t consider it a virtue in and of itself). C.S Lewis, in Mere Christianity, says this of it:

“Niceness” — wholesome, integrated personality — is an excellent thing. We must try by every medical, educational, economic, and political means in our power, to produce a world where as many people as possible grow up “nice”; just as we must try to produce a world where all have plenty to eat. But we must not suppose that even if we succeeded in making everyone nice we should have saved their souls. A world of nice people, content in their own niceness, looking no further, turned away from God, would be just as desperately in need of salvation as a miserable world — and might even be more difficult to save.

For mere improvement is not redemption, though redemption always improves people even here and now and will, in the end, improve them to a degree we cannot yet imagine. God became man to turn creatures into sons: not simply to produce better men of the old kind but to produce a new kind of man. It is not like teaching a horse to jump better and better but like turning a horse into a winged creature. Of course, once it has got its wings, it will soar over fences which could never have been jumped and thus beat the natural horse at its own game. But there may be a period, while the wings are just beginning to grow, when it cannot do so: and at that stage the lumps on the shoulders — no one could tell by looking at them that they are going to be wings — may even give it an awkward appearance.

Niceness is adjacent to kindness (charity) and may often be mistaken for it. But it is transitory. A friend who tells you when you’ve made a mistake may not, in the moment, seem nice to you (although I’m sure most people would agree there are “nice” ways to point out mistakes and “assholey” ways to do so). Your friend is likely being kind, for he cares for you and wants you to succeed. Brometheus points out the importance of honesty, and I agree. There are plenty of “nice” people who may not seem so nice to Leftists asking them what they think of gay marriage or abortion.

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Kindness must be tempered by honesty (and often spurred by courage, as unintuitive as that may sound), or else it’s just a sort of empty niceness.

This, I believe, is the issue Roosh and Dr. Glover (and perhaps the good Brometheus above, who I wouldn’t place in the company of those two) are attempting to address. And I think it creates a false dichotomy between being nice and being virtuous (or “alpha,” if you’re Nietzschean rather than Christian). The “nice guy” isn’t actually so nice. He’s a doormat or a bootlicker.

Perhaps I bristle a little at the false formulation because I think of someone who has been a very positive influence in my life – the father of one of my oldest and best friends.

The man was born and grew up in a Caribbean nation. His family was large and very poor, as you might imagine. As a young man, he entered the seminary with the intention of becoming a priest, but eventually left after meeting and falling in love with the woman who would become his wife. They legally immigrated to the US. They learned English. They worked hard. They successfully raised three children and although they’re not wealthy, they have done well for themselves and are retired with two properties.

The thing is, this guy is one of the most devout people I know. He is completely open and unabashed about his Catholic faith, and he’s one of the most humble men I can think of. He’s a man of quiet dignity who has accomplished so much that he doesn’t need to prove what a mensch he is to anyone. And you know what? He’s a really nice guy.

Being a “nice” man is, well, nice. But it is something apart from and independent of being a good or virtuous one.

-Bushi

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5 thoughts on “The “nice” man and the virtuous man

  1. While I cannot speak for anyone else, the defintion of a “nice guy” as a bootlicker and doormat is what many people mean when they say “nice guy”.

    Your frustration about the terminology between genuinely nice meeting and “nice guys” is understandable. It confuses the issue when people try to discuss it.

    Nice men are great and the world needs more of them. “Nice guys”…not so much.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. I may be playing a semantics game, but words are important. I guess I just wanted to say that the problem isn’t guys being nice. The problem is guys who purport to be nice but have underlying, unrelated deficiencies.

      I think the distinction is important in light the fact that there are sleazy guys (often pick-up artists or will-to-power “alphas”) out there proclaiming that being an asshole is the way to go, because it’s the opposite of “nice” and “nice guys finish last.”

      Like

      1. I agree with you. Many people (myself included) sometimes fall into the false idea that being nice = “nice guy”.

        It would great if the terminology was clearer, like “passive guy” or “human doormat” or something.

        Liked by 1 person

  2. I agree with you, words do matter. While our language seems to be growing to encompass all the new “things” that are created, iPad for example, at the same time it seems to be shrinking in specifically defining complicated ideas. Love is a fantastic example. I love my wife and you love pizza. Not even close to the same thing but we have to muddle along with “knowing what the other person means” and that cause a LOT of confusion.

    Anyway, really good post. It’s also very apropos to me as our mens group at church is going to be starting to read “Play the Man” by Mark Batterson.

    Liked by 1 person

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