Nice Is Overrated

I hate writing this, because it’s so snarky, but I still catch myself thinking or saying it a lot. My first college roommate, a truly lovable prick, introduced me to the phrase, which makes me regret using it even more. But damn it, it’s true. Nice is overrated.

When my back is against the wall, I want someone trustworthy, brave, patient, strong, smart, and ethical. Nice… that’s really just a way of saying that he or she is friendly. Don’t get me wrong, that’s great. I love that quality. But when is “friendly” the one attribute you really need when the walls start closing in? It’s just a few degrees more impressive and useful than being “pretty.” Both are easy, and usually not a conscious choice. My point is that you need to be more than that, much more.

This is classically illustrated when an uninterested woman describes her date as “nice.” Men tend to interpret that as women wanting “bad boys.” Most don’t… but they want substance and depth, which “nice” doesn’t offer. That’s mostly a way of saying he’s not an asshole, which is commendable, but no one gets a second date if that’s all she has to say. The same goes for the cliche, “Nice guys finish last.” That’s true, if nice is all you got. Nice is a starting point, a first step towards being a “good man” or woman, which is far more special. That’s someone you can count on, which is a big deal in this world.

If I can only really count on someone who is just nice to not be mean, so what? I guess that makes them safe to invite to dinner parties or well qualified for an entry-level customer service job — maybe. When the best thing I can say about someone is that they are “nice,” that’s actually not saying a whole lot.

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© 2012, Ian Mathias