If you were an alien visiting Earth (perhaps seeing some TV adverts and suburban homes) you might conclude that middle class humans prize comfort above all else….above passion and achievement…certainly above freedom.
Why else would people trade decades of their life working for more cushions, curtains and sofas?
For fluffy white toweling robes on expensive spa mini-breaks? For cake, candles and cosmetics etc
This is a big puzzle. So I’m interested when I find a book that helps explain this. I’ve just read No More Mr Nice Guy by Dr Robert Glover and was struck by the similarities between what he calls “Nice Guys” and what Steve Biddulph calls “Walking Wallets”.
For this to make sense, you probably need to read my previous article about Walking Wallets. As a reminder, these are middle class men who’ve given up on living with purpose and adventure and have become only The Payer of the Bills. They’ve been subdued and emasculated by debt, sedentary living, Keeping Up With The Joneses and suburban conformity.
Here’s the start of Biddulph’s book Manhood which hit me like a Mustachian face punch when I read it ~15 years ago:
“Most men today don’t have a life.
What they have instead is an act. When a man is deeply unhappy, desperately worried or utterly lonely or confused, he will often pretend the opposite, and so no one will know.
Early in life little boys learn – from their parents, from school and from the big world outside – that they have to pretend. And most will do this for the rest of their lives.
Thoreau [author of Walden and one of the founders of the financial independence movement] put it best:
“The mass of men lead lives of quiet desperation”.
Most women are not like this. More and more, women live from inner feeling and spirit. They have their struggles…but they generally know who they are and what they want. The men in relationships with these strong and healthy women are simply no match for them
Biddulph describes masculine energy as power that can be used for good or evil. What’s the difference between a male petty criminal and a male police officer or soldier? Its mostly self-control, discipline and the ability to defer gratification for higher values and / or greater rewards over time. These are skills that boys need to learn to grow into well-adjusted men.
it seems obvious that if you live in a man’s body, you need to learn how to “drive” one from someone who knows how to drive their own
The process of learning to “drive” a male body is like driving a supercar. If you just get in and floor it, you’ll spin off at the first corner. You learn to respect its power and be cautious with the throttle.
Humans are emotional creatures. Without self-control, anger and frustration are dangerous (especially when combined with male strength). Boys learn self-discipline by being around older guys who have their shit together…hopefully starting with our fathers.
But what if we never had strong male role models? Dr Glover’s theory is that we end up with a generation of Nice Guys. I’m not saying this is an absolute truth…it’s just a theory. But it resonated with me (probably because I recognised some of my own flaws in it).
Here’s Dr Glover’s definition of a Nice Guy:
A Nice Guy’s primary goal is to make other people happy.
Nice Guys are dependent on external validation (especially from women) and avoid conflict like the plague.
Nice Guys are guided by the following three “covert contracts”:
- If I am nice, then everyone will love me and like me (and people I desire will desire me).
- If I meet other people’s needs without them having to ask, then they will meet my needs without me having to ask.
- If I do everything right, then I will have a smooth, problem-free life.
These covert contracts operate at an unconscious level. They don’t work for a number of reasons, but Nice Guys are convinced they should.
Because most Nice Guys believe they have kept their side of the contract, they often feel helpless and resentful when other people (and the world) don’t keep their side of the contract.
What does a Nice Guy look like?
According to Dr Glover:
- He is the boyfriend / husband who lets his girlfriend / wife run the show whilst he is absent (either at work or at home behind a newspaper or watching TV)
- He won’t argue directly…he frustrates his partner because he’s so afraid of conflict that nothing ever gets resolved.
- He tells one person what they want to hear, then reverses himself to please someone else.
- He keeps secrets rather than “owning” and stating his true preferences
- He lets people walk all over him because he doesn’t want to rock the boat.
Nice Guys seek the approval of others (especially women). They put other people’s needs and wants before their own, often playing the role of victim. They’re insecure and try to hide their flaws. They’re disconnected from other men and from their own masculine energy and often feel shame about their sexuality. They create relationships in which they don’t have much sex. And at work they frequently fail to live up to their full potential. As Glover puts it: Nice Guys rot in middle management.
You may be thinking what’s so wrong with Nice Guys? Aren’t they better than misogynists, wifebeaters and rapists?
Errr….yes, but that’s setting the bar kind of low, don’t you think? We need more good guys…not more wimps.
How does this relate to financial independence?
I know from my coaching that many guys struggle to negotiate effectively with their partners on life choices (especially spending choices). In my career I saw plenty of Nice Guys with not enough oooomph to get promoted nor reach their full potential. I also know plenty of guys are driven through life by anxiety / fear.
And I know people spend ridiculous amounts of money on comfort, convenience and luxury…that’s mostly why everyone’s broke.
How did this happen?
Glover argues that social changes since World War II have produced Nice Guys:
- The transition from farming to an industrial / information economy
- The movement of families from rural areas to urban areas
- The absence of fathers from the home
- The increase in divorce, single parent homes and homes headed by women
- Women’s liberation and feminism
These combined to create 3 key dynamics that contributed to widespread Nice Guy syndrome.
i) Boys were separated from their fathers and other male role models
In a rural society, boys connected with their fathers, grandfathers, uncles and cousins by working alongside them in the fields. This daily contact with men provided boys with an model of maleness. Sons learned about being male by watching their dads just as their own fathers had learned by watching their fathers.
As families migrated from rural areas to cities and suburbs, contact between fathers and sons declined. Dads left home to work. Sons didn’t see what their fathers did and didn’t get much time to spend with them. Fathers became unavailable as men’s addictions to work, TV, alcohol and sex took them away. Increases in divorce began to separate boys from their fathers.
As a result, men became disconnected from other men in general and confused as to what it meant to be male.
ii) Boys were left to be raised by women
Glover’s argument is that the unavailability of dads during this era often forced mothers to try to take over the job. Unfortunately even the best and most well-meaning mothers are not biologically equipped to show their sons how to be men by themselves.
The education system also contributed to boys being raised by women. Boys entered schools dominated by females (men make up about 15% of primary school teachers). For most boys the early years at school became basic training in how to please women.
As a result, men became comfortable being defined by women and became dependent on the approval of women.
iii) Radical feminism implied that men were bad and/or unnecessary
The Escape Artist says: feminism is a good thing. It’s great that women got more choices and more power, because life is not a zero sum game where women can only benefit at the expense of men (or vice versa).
I’m happy that countries (and companies) are now lead by women on merit…I voted for Theresa May as Prime Minister…although she’s not been as good as Margaret Thatcher, my favourite Prime Minister since Boadicea. When Stella Rimmington lead MI6, I slept soundly at night. When Angela Ahrendts was making me and other shareholders money as CEO of Burberry, I was delighted. And I’m a fan of Oprah Winfrey and her self help business empire…I could go on and on.
Perceptive readers may be starting to realise that The Escape Artist respects and admires strong women…or, more accurately, non-wimps of either gender.
But Glover makes the reasonable suggestion that women’s liberation came with some unanticipated side effects. Radical feminism told many men that if they wanted to be loved and get their needs met, they had to become what they believed women wanted them to be. For many men, this meant trying to hide any traits that might cause them to be labeled as “bad” men.
Some radical feminists in the 1960s and 70s angrily claimed that men were the cause of all the problems in the world. Others said men were an unnecessary nuisance.
The majority of women during this era probably didn’t feel this way about men. Nevertheless, enough angry women were significantly vocal to contribute to a social climate that convinced many men that it was not OK to be who they were. Men who were already conditioned to look to women for approval were especially susceptible to these kinds of messages.
How would you enslave the world?
The next bit is The Escape Artist’s theory:
Producing a generation of malleable Nice Guys suits advertisers and companies. That way they can influence us to buy their stuff (and keep working for them)
How would you persuade men to sit and watch property makeover shows about soft furnishings and garden decking? And watch adverts telling them to shuffle off to the garden centre to buy more? How would you condition men to avoid taking risks? And cling onto safe, salary paying jobs?
By selling them comfort and convenience and persuading them to take on debt that has to be serviced each month.
Once you’ve seen The Matrix you wonder if consumerism is a gigantic conspiracy co-ordinated by politicians and CEOs to enslave the poor, working and middle classes? But there is no conspiracy. Here’s how Ed Latimore puts it:
I don’t think there’s an INTENTIONAL conspiracy to make everyone fat, lazy, and stupid. The goal is just to make a lot of money. The best way to do that is to get people hooked on junk, both physically and mentally.
A fat, low-attention span, instant gratification, dopamine seeking population is easy to control, and better to profit from.
But it doesn’t have to be like that. We can choose to change.
How can you cure Nice Guy syndrome?
Well, awareness is the first step. Glover then recommends a combination of joining mens groups and counselling. And I wouldn’t argue with him about that. After all, he’s the pyschologist with the bestselling book…I’m just some bloke tapping shit into a computer.
But I’ll add a couple of suggestions. If joining a men’s discussion group seems a bit New Agey, how about a martial arts club? I take my son to Karate. Men bond over shared activities and clubs like this provide community and structure.
Or what about lifting weights? Its been amazing for me to experience the changes to my mind and body that came after financial independence. Just over a year ago, I started to lift weights regularly.
Everyone knows that lifting weights changes your body. But it also changes your mind. Its does this over time through a subtle and complex series of mental and physiological changes.
Your hormone levels change. You feel different, more powerful. Your posture changes, you naturally stand straighter with your shoulders back and lift your chest. Its weird but people actually respond differently to you. I don’t expect everyone to believe this…I just invite you to try it for yourself….male or female.
Some women say they don’t want to get huge muscles. This is silly as you have to do a ridiculous amount of training to turn into a body builder type. Trust me, that shit ain’t gonna happen by accident.
No, the point is wellbeing. Arthur de Vany writes about the importance of testosterone (for men and women).
Testosterone controls body composition for both sexes and is important for vitality. Low testosterone is associated with poor body composition (too much fat, not enough muscle), bad mood, depression, high blood pressure, low strength and energy…there are no known supplements that will raise testosterone because the level is tightly controlled in the body but these suggestions may help:
- cut down on the booze (tragically, beer is the worst for men)
- drop the sugar (and other processed carbohydrates)
- lift weights (and do other high intensity exercise)
- eat natural food (de Vany suggests celery might be particularly effective!)
- take occasional cold showers / baths (or natural swimming)
I only stumbled across much of this after financial independence….but there’s nothing stopping you from doing it right now. It will make you richer in money terms. But it may also make you richer in ways you can’t predict.