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February 2, 2011 11:16 am

No More Mr. Nice Guys

avatar by Adam Jacobs

Email a copy of "No More Mr. Nice Guys" to a friend

Judaism has long maintained that the true measure of a person is found only in the strength of their (positive) character. Photo: Guille Mendia.

I have a friend who is studying abroad.  He happens to be an unusual combination of highly intelligent and extremely nice.  One would think that these traits would win him accolades and make him an extra desirable catch for the ladies out there.  I was surprised when I received this email from him explaining how his classmates were reacting to him.  For instance:

Dave, you’re a nice guy.  You help people when they need you, you’re caring, and people all want to be friends with you, but they don’t want to date you because of that, don’t you find that a problem?

So what is Dave’s social crime?  Helping people and caring!  Literally.  What have we come to?  What kind of society do we live in that inverts human behavior to the degree that it exchanges positive character for negative?  What would our children be like if every time they said please and thank you we put them in time out and every time they teased their siblings we gave them extra dessert?  Listen to the kind and practical advice that Dave’s classmate offered to improve his social standing:

You see that girl there?  Nice (expletive).  I’d have my way with her for 5 minutes, how about you?
If you treat women badly they’ll come to you, just watch.  Why are you so optimistic about everything?  Why are you studying, you know this already! Why are you even here in this program?

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Wow.  So the best way to attract a woman is to treat her poorly, to be less nice, less optimistic and study less.  The horrible truth about all this is that I suspect that this individual, warped views and all, may be correct in many cases.  I have also spoken with many women who tell me that to be too nice to men, to display to high a degree of intelligence or to demonstrate too many virtuous characteristics, would be the death knell of their dating lives.

In the original Superman comics there was a backwards world called Bizarro where they lived by a creed to do everything precisely the opposite of the way Earthlings did it.  Here’s Wikipedia description: In the Bizarro world of “Htrae” (“Earth” spelled backwards), society is ruled by the Bizarro Code which states “Us do opposite of all Earthly things! Us hate beauty! Us love ugliness! Is big crime to make anything perfect on Bizarro World!”. In one episode, for example, a salesman is doing a brisk trade selling Bizarro bonds: “Guaranteed to lose money for you”. Later, the mayor appoints Bizarro No. 1 to investigate a crime, “Because you are stupider than the entire Bizarro police force put together”. This is intended and taken as a great compliment.  Isn’t there some apparel company that is now advertising stupidity as the main selling point of their clothes?  Have we arrived there yet?  Perhaps not, but we do seem to be acquiring more and more of its features.

Judaism has long maintained that the true measure of a person is found only in the strength of their (positive) character.  Joseph was called righteous, Moses was “the humblest man who ever lived”, and other sages were called pious, holy and fearers of sin.  We have storehouses full of mighty tomes on how to develop these traits and put them into action.  Classical ethical treatises like “The Path of the Just”, “The Duties of the Heart”, “The Ways of the Righteous” and “The Beginning of Wisdom” were part and parcel of every Jewish home.  These works chart a course for true ethical behavior and vociferously trumpet the highest standards.  If we, as a society, rediscovered and embraced these critical principles, then Dave’s “friend” and people like him would be shunned as the base and uncouth people that they are and people like Dave would be held in high esteem.

Many people have suggested that Jewish writers Jerry Siegal and Joe Shuster had Jews in mind when they created the Superman concept.  Here you have a “mild mannered” Clark Kent-bespeckled and cute-but at his core possessing a hidden, massive power.  This indeed is a Jewish theme as we claim that the entire true strength of the individual is to be discovered only internally.  “Who is the mighty person?” asks the Mishna, “the one who can control his negative inclinations.”  And Solomon said “a patient person is better than a mighty one and the one who rules his passions is better than the one who can conquer a city.”  So it’s not the big CEO, or the victorious general, or the influential political figure who wields power in our way of thinking.  It’s the person who wants to insult but refrains, who wants to indulge, but desists and who would prefer to hate, but teaches himself to love.  That’s power.  That’s character.  That’s maturity.  And that’s what deserves to be valued in this world.

Only on Bizzaro should nice guys finish last.

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  • Mark M.

    Great piece!! Looking forward to more of your work…

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