By WALLACE BAINE
Are you a nice person?
Now, wait a sec before you answer. Keep in mind that just about everybody from Mel Gibson to Kim Jong Il is going to say, “Yeah, you know, I think I’m an alright guy/gal, once you get to know me.”
America’s most promising growth industry these days is delusional thinking, and self-delusion is the garden from which all those other whackadoodle seeds take root.
So, when it comes to figuring out if you’re a nice person, your own opinion on the matter is about as trustworthy as a subprime mortgage. Maybe we need something a bit more, hmmm, empirical.
Scientists at a prestigious behavioral research lab in the U.K. that I totally made up have devised a questionnaire to grapple with that very question: Am I a nice person?
But before we get started, let’s define our terms. By nice, we don’t mean merely polite, or friendly, or gregarious, or pleasant to be around. All those can be faked, and chances are, unless you’re with someone with whom you have a very stable relationship, you’re faking at least one of those right now.
Being nice isn’t about smiling a lot or remembering the names of people’s children or complimenting someone’s haircut. Cheaters, liars, narcissists, even psychopathic monsters do that kind of thing every day. I hear Khalid Sheik Mohammed can be very charming.
One of the great failings of our generation – number 1,488 on my list – is the devaluation of the concept of “nice.” It’s a word we use to describe the kindly old lady that lives next door who you don’t really want to talk to, the condo in your price range you’re not crazy about, the guy you’re half-dating that you have no intention of sleeping with. A mean old baseball manager decades ago coined the term “Nice Guys Finish Last” and now in a culture that regularly rewards sleazebags and self-aggrandizers, “nice” is that set of ankle weights that only losers can’t figure out how to shed.
But know what? “Nice” deserves better. “Nice” is a cousin of “decent” and we could use a lot more decency in this world. And when we each meet our Maker, the most mediocre of us are going to find ourselves hustled one by one into some giant office and the Supreme Being is going to be seated at a desk looking over our life resumes and yawning, gazing at us with boredom and disappointment, resembling Marlon Brando, the scary old “Apocalypse Now” Marlon Brando, and he’s going to say one thing: “Why weren’t you nicer to people?”
So, let’s do the questionnaire. Start with a base score of 100 and add or subtract accordingly.
First, if you know more than two synonyms for a stupid person, subtract five points. If any of them reference a part of the body usually kept hidden by clothing, subtract five more points.
If you take the shopping cart back across the parking lot to the store after unloading your groceries, add five points. If you leave it in a empty parking space, subtract five points. If you pretend not to notice while it slowly gathers speed on a collision course toward that car with the bumper sticker you find politically offensive on it, subtract five more points.
If you’re still complaining about having to take your shoes off at airport security, subtract five points.
If your middle finger constitutes more than 25 percent of your daily vocabulary, subtract five points.
If you type anything into an anonymous on-line comment box that you would not say in person, subtract five points. If that comment is in ALL CAPS, subtract five more points. If you’re not willing to show it to your grandmother, your priest or your parole officer, subtract five more points.
If you ask a waitress how her day is going and wait to hear the answer, add five points. If you haven’t made eye contact with a waitress since 1994, subtract five points. If that’s because you’re too busy watching another part of her body, subtract five more points.
If your neighbors come to you before they take vacation to ask you look after their pets or water their garden, add five points. If your neighbors come to you after their vacation because their kitchen window is broken and the liquor is gone, subtract five points.
If you drive with the courtesy and common sense that God gave a pineapple, add five points. If you’d rather drown your first-born child than let that car next to you merge into your lane, subtract five points.
If you roll your eyes more than twice a day or if you smirk so much that people mistake you for Bruce Willis, subtract five points.
If you ever refer to specific groups of people as sheep, cows or lemmings, subtract five points.
If you are Bernie Madoff, Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, Roger Clemens, Rod Blagojevich, Perez Hilton, Newt Gingrich, Donald Trump, O.J. Simpson, John Edwards, Ann Coulter, Kanye West, Gene Simmons or the guy who plays the doctor with the cane on that show “House,” subtract five points.
OK, now for the scores
95-120: You are a vanishing breed, a person of integrity and decency, who believes all people deserve kindness and respect until they prove otherwise. Can you adopt me? Please?
55-90: Yeah, I know. You used to be a real sweetheart in your youth, but life does a number on a person and you figured you gotta grab what’s yours before someone else does. You know, the conscience is likely everything else – use it or lose it.
20-50: Congratulations for having the wisdom to recognize that nastiness can be fun and selfishness rewarding. Wonderful opportunities await in corporate law, cable news and political campaigning. Don’t worry about the rest of us; we’re just extras in your movie.