Nice Guys Finish Last

Wendy Russ
Human Parts
Published in
4 min readDec 4, 2013

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Photo courtesy of Bibliothèque de Toulouse from Toulouse, France

In a scalding shower with the steam rising I wept. For no particular reason except for stress release. There was a baby coming, born of another mother, and I swam in doubt about my abilities. I was already a mom and I prayed to the God of Hot Scalding Showers that this new one would be born healthy and that both my boys would be kind, good men and that during their lifetime they would make the world a tiny bit better by being in it.

That’s all I wanted.

Fast forward seven years and I’m sitting in the front seat of an idling car staring into space, searching for a response to something my oldest son said that made him sound like an asshole.

I am not a gentle, patient mother. I’m also not a crier. This day I felt like both. Fighting back tears of disappointment, I put the car in reverse, backed out into the driveway and started listing men I admired that might be great role models for my son. I asked him to deconstruct with me what qualities they had that were admirable and why people thought they were great men.

Martin Luther King, Gandhi, Abraham Lincoln, JFK. I rattled off the list and why this list was important to me and why this list should be important to him.

And finally I took a breath to see if anything I said was getting through and in this pause he said, “You know all those guys were killed, right?”

He asked in an accusatory way, as if I were suggesting that he should be so good, so amazing that it would make people want to kill him. As if that is what I want for my son.

Of course I don’t. But is that the risk of being good? Why is it that if you are so good, so devoted to your cause that you put your life on the line? And if that is the case, why should you do it? Why would you want to do it? Why do I not have the answer to my son’s unasked question, “Why should I be one of those guys?”

I don’t know the answer.

But the rumination of this comes in the same week that I am a year from seeing a dream of mine come to fruition. Positioned with a great shot to become Mayor of my tiny town, a town I grew up in that I love more than I love myself, a town I have sacrificed for — missed family time, missed making sales at my day job for, sacrificed time toward my writing, my other passion. I have this in my sights, maybe inches away, until I get a call telling me I have a new opponent: a man I admire, a man who would do a wonderful job, a man who will be tough to beat because he is also a dedicated hometown boy, but one with possibly more connections than me. And it is said during this phone call that it would not do the town good to have a three-way split vote. It’s too risky. The wrong person might be elected. If I step away from this dream it’s nearly a guarantee that at least the wrong man won’t be elected. But if I stay and create a split vote he might be.

But, of course, everyone would understand continuing to chase the dream, because what else is there in life? There is cooking and cleaning. There is the mundanity of breathing and driving to work, the repetition of bathing, another meal that hours later has to be repeated because you’re hungry again. There is children’s homework to check. All this punctuated by the catching of dreams if you are dedicated and sometimes lucky.

And I realize the answer to my son’s unasked question about why be that guy is “because it’s the right thing to do.” Or because “the needs of the many outweigh the needs of the few, or the one.”

I don’t know exactly how to explain to him that we are small, inconsequential people until we make the leap to effect change. Until we do that we are simply taking up space, using up resources, not giving anything back for all we take from the planet or from other human beings.

I don’t know how to explain to him that the pain of sacrifice and the hurt we might experience is worth the joy of making a difference. Even if it means dying. But I can’t say that to him because he is everything to me and I would fight any demon to keep him from experiencing the pain and hardship that I know are inevitable when we put ourselves out there unshielded. I struggle with my hypocrisy.

I don’t know how to explain to him that sometimes nice guys finish last but that it’s okay and, in fact, necessary and as horrible as it is to say — beneficial.

In the absence of real wisdom, I nod and keep driving. Finally, I say, “This is true, but look at the trails they blazed that we follow.” And I hope it’s a conversation he will remember so if the time comes that he’s a nice guy who finishes last, maybe the difference he makes will take the sting out of the wounds he suffers along the way.

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Wendy Russ
Human Parts

writer. yarn spinner. knitter. eclectic funmeister. bacon enthusiast. Managing Editor of The Lascaux Review. Author of The League for the Suppression of Celery.