In the film classic Roadhouse (it is, let’s not argue), renowned bouncer Dalton (Patrick Swayze) comes to the Double Deuce in Kansas City to create order out of the bar’s rampant chaos. His first order of business is to whip the establishment’s staff into shape. It’s a motley crew (crüe?) of rough-and-tumble types who fight and sell drugs and have too-explicit-to-watch-with-your-parents (awkward!) sex in the break room. The drug-dealers and sex-havers, Dalton fires on the spot. With the overly-aggressive ex-high school football types, he has to employ his other managerial skills. He gives three rules for effective bouncering. They are all pretty sensible. The first two are “Never underestimate your opponent,” and “Take it outside.” The third, however, is simply “Be nice.”
Now, Dalton dishes out a few dubious nuggets over the course of the movie (most notably, “pain don’t hurt”), but “Be nice,” is a piece of advice that I’ve always related to. Too often, people equate niceness to blandness (“nice shirt,” “he’s nice, but we just didn’t click,” “nice try”) or the absence of anything compelling. Specifically, in standup, when a comic calls another coming “a nice guy,” it means that he’s not funny. This is the context:
Comic 1: Do you know Comic X? (This X means a variable, not a radical Muslim activist.)
Comic 2: I don’t know, what’s he like?
Comic 1: Short, shaved head. Super nice guy.
Comic 2: Ohhhhhhh.
People also infer weakness from niceness. If someone is polite, he/she must be weak. This premise is a false one. Meekness and niceness are two different things. One comes from a lack of self-esteem, and the other stems from having enough self-confidence to stick to one’s principles, and the other comes from a level of comfort with one’s self that eliminates the need for posturing or preening. Dalton perfectly illustrates the difference later in the same scene.
“Be nice until it’s time to not be nice,” he says. That’s exactly it. Nice doesn’t mean an inability to stand up for one’s self. It means the judiciousness to understand how to pick the right time to take a stand. The truly “nice” person has not taken assertiveness off the table, but rather they default to politeness and courtesy. Which, if more people did, would create an easier time for everyone. Although, when Dalton decides that it’s “time to not be nice,” he rips a dude’s throat out of his neck, which may be a tad excessive.
I consider myself a pretty nice guy. Here’s one reason why I do. When I left for college, my dad, in passing said to me: “Your mother and I are very proud of you. When you started high school, we were worried that the world would crush and take advantage of you.” Which is, admittedly, sort of a non-standard pep talk. My first thought was: “What, really? Seriously, pops?” But it really made me feel like I’d grown up a lot since I started high school. Which, I think, is the goal. But the story to me illustrates how sometimes people underestimate nice.
Here are some things that nice does for you:
Nice remembers your birthday. Nice gives you a ride to the airport. Nice helps you move. Nice calls back. Nice gives it to you straight. Nice visits you in rehab. Nice writes letters. Nice listens. Nice bakes.
Here’s what nice takes off the table:
Pretty much just drama. Nice doesn’t preclude excitement or artfulness or excellence.
Personally, I’ve been trying to be more kind to friends and strangers this year. My new initiative is to not withhold good news or compliments (except in the rare occasion of a surprise party). Sometimes it leads to people thinking I am gay or autistic, like when I say: “Great shirt, dude,” to a guy on the bus. But more often, it makes someone’s day a little better, and it makes my day a lot better. I have a fairly selfish life; I live like a giant baby with a driver’s license. But if I can be polite and courteous and genuine with strangers, I think I am adding a little bit of goodness to the world. Or at least that dude with the great shirt.
I guess the downside is being less guarded and insulated against inconsideration or discourteousness in others, which can be painful. But as we all know: “Pain don’t hurt.”