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The Nice Guy Paradox

“Just be nice to them,” she said, tugging at the little orange coat that he hated. “Just be nice to them, and they will be nice to you.”

The little boy, his coat still skewed, didn’t look convinced.

“You’ll be fine,” his mum said and kissed him on the forehead. “Now, off with you.” And, with a horrible feeling in his tummy and his lunch box dangling from one gloved hand, he went to his first day at school with the words ‘just be nice’ reverberating in his little head.

From childhood we’re told to “be nice”, but what we aren’t told, not in so many words, is why. It is a theme repeated in literature, TV, film and disapproving aunts, that good things will happen to nice little boys and any little boy that isn’t nice, well, he’ll meet a very sticky end indeed.

It is a common habit for people to, in the absence of one thing, conclude that the opposite of that state is true, i.e. if you’re not nice, you’re a nasty little sod. This, of course, is a fallacy but it’s a mode of thinking of which we’re all guilty.

Here, I would like to put forward that ‘being nice’ is not only a selfish demand of society, but also can be incredibly damaging for the individual who aspires to this ideal.

Ever heard the phrase, ‘Nice guys finish last’? Do you agree with this statement? I do, but with a condition: there are certain types of nice guys that finish last, and that’s not because they are nicer than anyone else; in fact, it’s because they don’t know how to be a nice guy effectively.


Personally, I hate the word ‘nice’; it’s so bland, it’s one degree better than a shrug of the shoulders.

“How was the pub tonight?”

“It was nice.” Translation: “It was moderately better than sitting in a darkened room without friends or alcohol.”

Couple this with the concept of ‘nice guy’ and you’ll start to see where I’m going with this.

But, don’t get me wrong, I like nice guys, everyone does, that’s kinda the point and the problem right there. Nice guys are wonderful people to have around.

The code of the ‘nice guy’

  1. A nice guy will put others first.
  2. A nice guy will always say yes when asked for help.
  3. A nice guy doesn’t inflict his views on others.
  4. A nice guy is always ready to help.
  5. A nice guy never talks about himself.

These are values which we have grown up with and, for the most part, possibly through familiarity and a misplaced belief that there is a such thing as altruism, we don’t see any problem. They are a good set of core values for others to have. But for the poor chap who is burdened with these socially defined standards, it’s terrible.

A nice guy is someone who can be relied on at any time, who will never say anything to offend, who will be agreeable in all situations and who will put others first… Just the sort of fella we all want to be friends with and, hey, he wouldn’t do it unless he wanted to, right?

But let’s examine our Nice Guy; all he’s doing is eroding his own value, becoming a doormat, and the more he works to gain respect by doing things for others, the more he loses of himself, time, money and, eventually, his own drive. He has been sold a lie. Being nice doesn’t make people respect you, it makes people expect you to do nice things for them.

In short, being the ‘nice guy’ that everyone wants you to be turns you from a person with a series of core beliefs and characteristics, into a series of functions, helping, listening, lending and doing.

I’m not telling you to go out and become a selfish arsehole, because we know how well people like that do; they lose friends, find it hard to sustain relationships and, on some level, even if you’ve just met them, you know that they’re an arsehole. I believe you should be nice, but you should be nice to yourself first.

Help yourself first

If you have ever been on an aeroplane and watched the safety demonstration, you might recall that:

“Should we lose cabin pressure, oxygen masks will drop down in front of you. Simply pull the mask towards you and it will start the flow of air. Please make sure you fit your own mask before helping others.”

And this is my point. “Please fit your own mask before helping others”; I think that is a good rule. Make sure you are safe before you start helping others, being the nice guy that everyone else wants you so much to be. Be strong before you offer that strength to others. In other words, I’m going to tell you to do something that you were told from an early age was wrong; I want you to put yourself first.

How can you help people if you are struggling yourself? You deserve better than that and they deserve better than that. Imagine a less than fit fireman waddling into a burning house to save a trapped family? He’s doing no one any favours.

The nice guy paradox

The nice guy paradox is this: to be nice, you need to have the strength to put others first, but, if you put others first you put yourself last; if you put yourself last, you lose that strength to be nice therefore you can’t be the nice guy… And it is a cycle. We feel we have let others down, that we are a failure, that we are somehow cursed because it seems so easy for everyone else. The only person you have let down is you. You have forgotten who you are… You are not a bad person, you are not a failure, you are not strange or abnormal, you are human and you are beautiful, not despite your flaws, but because of them.

Nice guy 2.0

Here is a check-list to consider before you automatically do what someone asks, agree with someone or put someone else’s feelings before your own.

  1. A nice guy makes sure that he is in the best possible position before helping others.
  2. A nice guy has the strength to say no when asked for help.
  3. A nice guy has his own opinions and respects the opinions of others.
  4. A nice guy makes time for himself to do what he wants.
  5. A nice guy is never afraid to ask for help.

So be kind, be caring, love, and be nice, but make sure it is to yourself first. Then get out there and be the hero you know you are because nice guys don’t have to finish last.

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