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What it means to me to be a good man: More than a nice guy

<eal question here is what are the consequences of being a good man. 

I realize that “the consequences of being a good man” is a fairly vague term that may mean nothing to you, but for those of us who have been warned about being a “nice guy” and the perils of “the friend zone,” a few of these consequences may be all too familiar. A “nice guy” (note the quotation marks) is a guy whose drive in life is such that he doesn’t overtly wish harm to anyone and, in fact, does what he can to make other peoples’ lives easier. A nice guy even often goes so far as to stay out of the way and do whatever he can to make sure everyone he comes into contact with is happy, even in spite of his own happiness. Being such a person warrants respect from some, but more often a disdainful pity and endless ridicule. “Softie”, “push-over”, “wimp”, “dorkasaurus”, and other more sexually driven insults are generally used to describe them. Things commonly said about the nice guy are, “He doesn’t understand the world,” and “He just cares too much. That’s why he doesn’t know no one else cares.” Nice guys are often seen as indecisive weaklings who don’t care enough about their own survival to be able to do anything correctly.

A further unfortunate circumstance of “nice guy-dom” is the ever-so terrible Friend Zone. The Friend Zone, familiar to all by experience, if not by name, is the level of familiarity one attains with a romantic interest that causes the romantic interest to refer to one as a friend first and foremost, which makes one socially invaluable, but romantically (and subsequently, sexually) tantamount to a movie-star-gone-politician, rather than a possible object of attraction: it’s a fun idea, but you’ll never take it seriously. Unfortunately, the person most familiar with the Friend Zone is the nice guy (which, if I weren’t writing about what it means to be a good man, would be replaced with “nice person” because, as we all know, the Friend Zone is a gender-blind realm of bittersweet tears and overt flirtation that leads nowhere). The fact that “(S)he’s so nice!” is generally a lead to the Friend Zone is a powerful deterrent for people who feel like being nice.
To be a good man, then, is a bold step into “nice guy-dom”. It’s like a nice guy on “nice” steroids because this good man is ignoring the consequences of being a nice guy, which, if you didn’t already know, comes with the territory of being a good man. A good man is ridiculed, jeered, taunted, and pushed just as hard, if not harder, than the average nice guy, but I’ll talk more of that later.

Where a nice guy is about peacefully stepping aside, a good man is about action in favor of peace (note that “action” does not mean bombing a country to preserve peace, nor is it any advocation of violence). A nice guy wants everyone to be happy, even in spite of his own happiness. A good man stands up for the right of everyone to be happy, even when his own happiness is at stake. A nice guy doesn’t wish harm to anyone and strives to make others’ lives easier. A good man protects his loved ones (meaning he doesn’t stand idly by as injustice grows) and strives to make others’ lives better. A nice guy minds his own business and, when he can, lies down as a stepping stone to help people stand up. A good man helps when necessary and, when someone in need feels down and out, does what he can to let them know that they can stand tall again. Most importantly, he lets them stand on their own. Mahatma Gandhi, a good man, stood beside his people and let them know that, if they were willing to have it, liberation was there and they could stand up and take it. Malcolm X, a good man, stood before his people and let them know that injustice did not have to be an everyday event, that they could stand and fight when necessary, not to be blindly hateful and return the evil fraught upon them, but to protect themselves. Martin Luther King, a good man, was nearly stabbed to death in 1958, arrested 30 times, and fought for the rights of all marginalized people only to be shot dead 10 years later while giving a speech about his bright hopes for the future. To be a good man means to be a man who stands up for the rights of all and the eradication of injustice.
 Now, I realize that the perils of “The Friend Zone” and the perils of being a leader of the civil rights movement during the reign of Jim Crow are a far cry from one another, but if you think about having met Gandhi, King, or Malcolm X before their fame, you would have referred to them as “nice men”. But they’re not. And the thing that makes them more than just nice men isn’t necessarily that they were leaders in perilous times. No. That is something that came to them long after they were good men. The thing that delineated them from nice men was their ability to love, care for, and protect those who stood with them as well as those who stood against them. Look at the words and actions of these men and you’ll find that their hearts and minds were for the preservation and perseverance of all people. Though they were members of races that were being beaten and oppressed, they loved their brothers and sisters as well as their abusers. That is the mark of a good man in my book. What that means is, to be a good man, one must love those who stand beside him, those who stand behind him, those who stand before him, as well as those who stand against him.

-Alsa Bruno is a second-year student

This essay is part of an ongoing series established by Chase Kimball. If you would like to have your own reflections published, please respond to the question “What does it mean to you to be a good man?” in an essay of 400-800 words and e-mail it to [email protected].

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