Tuesday, April 22, 2008

Quick Update and a Segue

Well, to wrap up a mini-saga from a prior entry, Men's Wearhouse made good -- quite good -- today. I now have $130 store credit, and they have me back as a customer for years to come.

If I were to keep writing about this without any connection to a larger point, that would be an example of bad talk (see my Feb. 20 entry if you need a reminder as to what exactly 'bad talk' is -- it may not be what you think). You shouldn't care, and I don't expect you to care, about my dealings with a retailer at the Waterford Crystal Mall in Waterford, CT. I certainly wouldn't care if the shoe were on the other foot, as I also wouldn't care what you ate or bought on a given day.

However, this does provide a nice segue into another topic -- the difference between being 'nice' and being a tool.*

Back in the days of all-the-time day games at Wrigley, home run hitters who weighed 160 lbs., and five-figure salaries that grabbed headlines, Leo Durocher's Cubs were known as the baddest baseball players around. They spiked, they dipped, they spit, they swore, and they offended anyone who got in their way on the road. When asked about his players' behavior, Durocher coined the now-infamous phrase: "Nice guys finish last."

It was a great turn-0f-phrase, and it's been endlessly repeated in nearly any context possible -- dating, business, politics, diplomacy, you name it.

But I'm just not sure that I fully buy it.

If being 'nice' means giving people the benefit of the doubt, smiling at strangers, caring about others, and respecting generally-held courtesies, then yes, I am nice. Even though I endlessly tease my friend Taryne for calling me 'nice' I'll take the label, even with its negative modern-day connotation.

But I would say that being nice (as I define it) helped me get the massive store credit today, just as it has probably helped me in many other situations where something was in dispute and a solution needed to be reached. 'Nice' in the sense of respecting others and being friendly/courteous is a good thing that probably can't be overdone.

The problem with the word nice, however, is that it often gets conflated with tool.

So who is a tool?

A tool is someone who carries himself without confidence. A tool may appear 'nice' on the surface, but harbors serious passive-aggressiveness and always fails to take a contrary stand. A tool complains about things in his power to fix instead of taking the action needed to fix them. A tool always bends to the will of others, even when he disagrees on principles or specifics. A tool is always available for people -- even those who don't respect him back. A tool is the guy in high school who did the cheerleaders' homework for them but wondered why he could never take one to the prom. In short, a tool knows how to be agreeable and 'nice' to others, but has no spine.

So yes, tools get to wear the nice label, but that doesn't mean all 'nice' people are tools. In fact, the reality is far from it. Based on my previous definition of nice, I would say that nearly all the people I consider close friends are nice -- but I wouldn't consider a single one a tool.

If Leo Durocher had been speaking in modern vernacular, it's my hope that he could've slightly adjusted fires and said, "Tools finish last."

Nice guys don't have to. There are plenty of 'nice guys' at at the apex of business, politics, sports, entertainment, the military, and any other profession you can name. Undoubtedly, they got there mostly with natural-born talent but also with the 'soft' personality skills that correlate with 'nice' and the backbone/focus that 'tools' lack.

It doesn't matter what realm we're talking about. I saw some of the "Mystery" shows on VH-1 and if you cut one layer through the abracadabra, hocus-pocus stuff, he's actually a very smart guy. In a nutshell, here's what he's saying: "Value yourself and project that to others. When you're able to do that, you'll attract others to you." The show was about dating, but the advice could have applied to business or just friendships in general.

I stumbled upon a blog via a GoogleSuggest search called "Briankim.net" that basically deals with a lot of the issues I bring up here (self-improvement, social networks, etc.) Some of it is a little bit polished and cheesy, but his basic message is the same -- being nice does not mean being a tool. It does not mean losing your backbone, or your faith, or anything of the sort.

In sum, being 'nice' in the denotative (though not necessarily the common connotative) sense is going to work to your benefit in 99% of daily situations.

And it just might get you a huge store credit at the mall...

* A lot of credit for the nice v. tool dichotomy described here goes to DT, who helped come up with this concept and embodies it as well as anyone I know.


Shannon said...

Every time I hear this statement it rubs me the wrong way. Especially when a guy uses it as an excuse for bad behavior or as a reason as to why his relationship with a girl did not work out. You did an outstanding job of calling it what it is.

The New Englander said...


Word is bond, thanks for the props. Just like teachers and drill instructors like to say: "Don't mistake my kindness for weakness." The next time someone tries to use that excuse just remind them that traits like honesty and kindness do not make someone a tool!