Thoughts go out this morning to all of Elliot Rodger’s victims this morning.
There are just no words to describe the sense of despair and hopelessness I feel after a mass shooting. Because for all the talk that we will engage in- some good, some bad- our national politics are so paralyzed that it seems impossible that we will get the sort of measures that we need to reduce the number of guns in our society or increase the number of mental health facilities that all our people need and could use. Our leaders should respect the words of someone like Richard Martinez, and it’s just painful that so many of them won’t.
Still, the story of Elliot Rodger merits discussion and a difficult one at that. We’ve learned a lot about Elliot Rodger, more than we ever knew about the Newtown shooter. And we’ve seen that he has a more coherent world view than the Colorado shooter or the Phoenix shooter. His videos and 140 page manifesto reveal that this man had a lot of hate in his heart, geared mostly toward women who would not pay attention to him. We’ve learned that Rodger was, if nothing else, a very extreme version of someone we all know: the “nice guy.”
A quick note: I was once a “nice guy” myself. You all know “nice guys.” “Nice guys” are, well, nice to women. Not like all those mean guys who abuse them, neglect them, then break their hearts. A “nice guy” will hold the door open for a woman, be friends with her, support her when she’s hurting. If “nice guys” dated those women, they would be so good to them. But of course, because women don’t actually like “nice guys”, they will never date them. So runs the personal narrative of the “nice guy.”
I am by no means the first person to talk about “nice guys.” I’ve been hearing about them since at least high school. I remember earlier than that hearing about the “friend zone” courtesy of… well… Friends. Basically the “friend zone”, it appears is bad. You don’t want to be in the “friend zone” with a lady you’re attracted to. You want to be sleeping with that lady.
I am also not the first person to criticize the “nice guy.” Some of you may remember the Tumblir “Nice Guys of OkCupid.” It was shut down by OKC itself, but these Nice Guys live on courtesy of posts from sites such as Buzzfeed. The blog had this handy chart explaining what is so wrong with this breed of man.
To sum up, here’s the basic problem with the “Nice guy” mentality: If you’re expecting sex in exchange for being nice, then well… you’re probably not that nice. If you’re only friends with someone because you want that friendship to lead to sex, then you’re probably not a great friend.
Hang out with “nice guys” enough, by the way, and you’ll notice a seeming contradiction in their logic. At the height of my “nice guy-ism” I found myself judging a lot of women around me for being sexually promiscuous, wearing tight jeans or short skirts, or whatever else, all while convinced I was still fundamentally a decent guy who loved women. Looking back now, I realized that women’s clothing or behaviors wasn’t the problem. I wasn’t mad at the way women dressed or the amount of sex women had, I was mad that they weren’t with me. “Nice guy-ism”, you see, is a fundamentally selfish worldview. It’s not about valuing other people, but about valuing what worth they have for you, how they fit your personal wants and desires. It’s about valuing what their attention means for you, how their attention raises your status over those mean guys that are not you. And here’s where this turns into dark and twisted thoughts and behaviors: when other people don’t fit your wants and desires, that makes them worthy of your judgment, resentment, and hate. Carry that logic far enough, and you get to Elliot Roger and thousands of other men who commit violence against women.
Just to be clear, Elliot Rodger is clearly more than just a nice guy. He has already been described by those who knew him as someone with a whole host of issues. Also, most “nice guys” will never be violent towards women or anyone else. Most of us will never send out messages like this one from a white man to an Asian woman, which to me demonstrates perfectly what can cause “nice guys” to become not so nice:
It’s going to be easy to say “I’m not Elliot Rodger, I’m not violent, I’m not mean” in the next few weeks, but the truth we all need to watch out for the “nice guys” in our midst and even at times in ourselves. Because violence aside giving in to “niceguy-ism” is a recipe for a sad, lonely, and bitter life. It’s a worldview that virtually guarantees depression, bad relationships, and bad friendships. And the scary part is as miserable as that disposition can be, it can also be comforting. Being a “nice guy” means that when people don’t want to be around you, it’s their fault, not yours. You don’t have to change or evolve or reflect in any way. You get to be the hero of your own story, which in this case is a tragedy. Sometimes, that can be easier than admitting that maybe some things about you just suck and you need to change.
Personally, I’d like to think I grew out of my “nice guy” phase. Partially I just got older and more self reflective. I learned that friendships built around something other than the future possibility of sex as a goal were pretty neat, and I wanted to have more of them. I also had some relationships and friendships of my own that I screwed up, and figured out that I wasn’t as “nice” as I thought I was. That I could at times be passive-aggressive, neglectful, or rude, and that I needed to change those things about myself. With each passing year and every new experience, I see that “nice guy” I knew when I was 17 disappear further in the rear view mirror. Not everyone leaves that person behind, though, and our society and culture does not make it easy to do so.
Once again, thoughts and prayers should go out to the victims last night, and victims of “nice guys” everywhere. Some thoughts should go to the “nice guys” as well who have yet to grow out of their misery and sadness. They deserve better, and we all deserve better.