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The Nice Guy

A short-short story: Is being kind worth it?

David McEddy, CC 3.0
Source: David McEddy, CC 3.0

Alas, it seems that nice guys, while not necessarily finishing last, do get taken advantage of.

Tommy was always disliked because he was a know-it-all. He couldn’t help it. He was smart and not restrained enough to hide it. So the kids hated him.

He tried to compensate by being ever so nice. He was so careful to not hurt anyone’s feelings. He did all sorts of favors for kids, even though they were rarely reciprocated.

Indeed, the nicer Tommy was, the more kids took him for a patsy. They felt fine about ignoring him, asking him for more favors, and treating him insensitively, even cruelly. For example, as a pre-teen, he got chubby and the kids called him “Tits Tommy.”

He responded as his parents taught him: “Turn the other cheek.” Alas, that was seen as a sign of weakness. So the taunts grew into his getting beaten up often for some mock offense. “Why are you looking at my girlfriend?”

In high school, he decided that the way to attract girls was to be really polite, tactful, buying them little presents, fully respectful of their sexual reticence. The popular girls saw that as unattractive. The only girl who liked him was Rita who, because she was quite unattractive, was starving for kindness.

Despite Tommy seeing, again and again, that being nicer than average results in less respect, he went through life being Mr. Nice Guy, clinging to the belief that it’s worth the opprobrium in exchange for doing what’s cosmically right.

Alas, even Tommy's wife and sons took advantage of him. The nicer he was, the more indifferent, indeed antipathic they were to him. He tried hard to please them but they, increasingly, with ever greater confidence, acted as though his wants were irrelevant.

So as Tommy aged, he grew ever more dispirited. “I just don’t fit on this earth.” Alas, unlike in the movies, he never met anyone who treasured him for his kindness. Nor was he rewarded by his employers or society.

He was nice even to the nurses who injected him with chemotherapy and then the euthanasia drug. Perhaps the only time he showed strength was in his will. He left most of his assets to charity.

The takeaway

People are more inclined to be nice if they've invested in you. That's why people play hard to get or are attracted to bad boys and bad girls–A person has to work to succeed in such relationships. Robert Cialdini, author of Influence, calls it commitment bias: We’re more likely to give more to someone or a cause if we’ve already given.

That’s why non-profits ask for only a tiny commitment at first, for example, your alma mater’s alumni association invites you to the homecoming football game. Then they slowly ratchet-up The Ask until you’ve left them a boatload. Beware of getting manipulated.

Not withstanding all that, ideally, we’d all be willing to pay the price for living a life of kindness. Alas, that's a lot to ask.

I read aloud a video of this on YouTube.

Dr. Nemko’s nine books, including his just-published Modern Fables: short-short stories with life lessons, are available. You can reach career and personal coach Marty Nemko at