May 13, 2009
More Important Virtues
Gay men are not known for being "nice," which might be one reason I like them. In fact, two of my favorite statements about niceness come from gay men. In "Disappointed," Morrissey sings
Don't talk to me
about people who are nice
for I have spent my whole life
because of people who are nice
And in Into the Woods by Stephen Sondheim, the witch tells the townspeople
You're so nice
You're not good
You're not bad
You're just nice
I'm not good
I'm not nice
I'm just right
I have long had a problem with niceness myself, not because there is anything wrong with it in and of itself, but because it is too often a shoddy substitute for more important virtues.
This is something I've been thinking about for a long, long time, but I'm writing about it now because of a post on Letters from a Broad. CL Hanson links to a very weird, very pompous editorial in some BYU publication by some guy all pissed off because women at BYU don't always accept dates from "nice" Mormon guys. It's such a weird editorial that CL wonders if the guy is a Poe (which I had to look up), but I don't think he is: he too easily plays the part of what a "nice" Mormon guy is: pompous, shallow, entitled, certain of his own authority, and ever ready to blame all relationship problems on women and their shallowness, fickleness and susceptibility to beguilement by the serpent.
Of course none of that is truly "nice," but it's what passes for "nice" in conventional Mormon manhood--along with a firm handshake and a willingness to help out at elders' quorum service projects.
Niceness for women is a little different. There is lots of smiling and the cultivation of a particular tone of voice, high-pitched, lilting and little-girly. Also, there is reminding people that "heavenly father loves them" and commanding them, in that bright, perky voice, to "smile!"
Other elements of niceness include 1) never saying No, no matter how passive-aggressive you have to be in order not to utter that dreadful word; 2) avoiding, at all costs, direct confrontation; 3) mustering enough superiority for people who disagree with or thwart you that you can "pity" them for the way they have been led astray by Satan.
I think a lot of times people are "nice" so they won't have to strive for the more difficult virtues of kindness and compassion, which involves actually figuring out what will make others' lives easier, instead of just resorting to the familiar standards of "nice" or "decorous" behavior. I'm not saying that there's no such thing as a kind, compassionate Mormon, but I do want to point out that it's much harder to be compassionate when you honestly believe that people who don't think and act as you do are led astray by the devil.
I mean, think of some "nice" people: Sarah Palin, for example. She smiles and winks and has that bright, perky voice--but she's a heartless bitch who makes rape victims pay for their own rape kits.
Or there's Miss California. Carrie Prejean smiled brightly and ended her explanation that because she's a christian, she doesn't believe that gay people deserve equal rights or recognition of their relationships by adding, perkily, "No offense to anyone out there!" That was the "nice" way to be an unkind, unchristlike bitch.
Or Bill Bennet, whom Jon Stewart skewered a few nights ago for being too fastidious and proper to tolerate the humor at the White House Correspondents' Association Dinner, but nonetheless defending torture.
Mitt Romney is probably "nice" too, though I find him so reptilian and repellent that I can't bring myself to think of any examples.
All of which is to say that as far as I'm concerned, as long as this is what passes for "nice" in our society, I hope it is true that "nice" guys finish dead, dead last.
Posted by holly at May 13, 2009 1:44 PM