How to Be Really Cool

Written by Raymond Salas

Is it me or has what is considered being “really cool” changing?

Is the “really cool” universal paradigm shifting before my very eyes?

Specifically, has being a nice and good person become the new “really cool”?

I believe that it has.

The Good Can Finish First

I think it was the singing “prophet” Billy Joel who once told us that Only The Good Die Young:

“They say there's a heaven for those who will wait
Some say it's better but I say it ain't
I'd rather laugh with the sinners than cry with the saints
the sinners are much more fun...”
(Billy, you make “good” sound kind of dull and boring when you put it like that.)

I can remember hearing early in my childhood that “Nice guys (and gals) finish last.” It’s an expression that most of us are not only familiar with, but one that many have believed at one time or another. However, as a kid with many so-called “strange” ideas, 

I always believed as Malcolm Forbes did: 

"Contrary to the old cliché, genuinely nice guys (and gals) most often finish first or very near it."

The Nice Are Finishing First

If you haven’t noticed already, being a good person has become really hip and cool. I would say that we are now in the era of the “mensch.” Nice people have gone “mainstream” and are now finishing first and at the top in so many ways in our popular culture.

One of the areas where you might not expect to find too many examples of this phenomenon would probably be sports. Although “nice” is a positive word in most contexts, in sports, especially among the top athletes and coaches, it sounds or implies “soft” or not “tough” enough to successfully compete at a high professional level.

After all, how many top professional athletes and coaches do you see genuinely happy and smiling often?

Probably not too many.

Here are some of my other favorite examples:

  • 2007 Super Bowl Coaches

Years ago, one of the popular storylines from the 2007 Super Bowl was the head football coach for each team, Tony Dungy (Indianapolis Colts) and Lovie Smith (Chicago Bears). They used to both work together for several years in Tampa Bay. As a result, they were very close friends. What made this story interesting was that Dungy and Smith were not your typical NFL coaches. They stood out from most of the coaches in the league because of their low-key energy and easy-going demeanor. As one ESPN analyst noted at the time, Dungy and Smith were different. He described them as “calm and serene.” They were nice, mild-mannered guys who happened to be close friends, with both finishing at the top of the National Football League in a sport known for its aggressiveness and violent nature. In this way, they were the exceptions to every rule.

But, they are not the only examples…

  • LaDanian Tomlinson

Football player LaDanian Tomlinson was the 2006 NFL MVP and Associated Press Offensive Player of the Year. He was a 4-time NFL Pro Bowl selection, who set the all-time NFL record in 2006 for the most touchdowns in a season (31). Interestingly, he was considered to be one of the most humble and classiest athletes in all of sports. In an era where most football players try to outdo each other with their touchdown celebrations, LaDanian simply handed the ball to the referee after each touchdown. He did not participate in any fanfare or celebrating at all. Ironically, he had more touchdowns than anyone else in the league and had plenty of reasons to celebrate.

LaDanian was also a devoted family man and beloved member of the community. He started the Touching Lives Foundation to serve underprivileged families in the San Diego area (where he played) and his native Texas. Also, after each of his San Diego Chargers’ home games, he hosted “The 21 Club,” where he invited twenty-one children from San Diego area youth groups and nonprofit organizations to attend each game. After the game, he took them all to a local restaurant for dinner and a night of entertainment. At the end of the night, each child received a “goodie” bag filled with school supplies, books and games. LaDanian also started the “LT School is Cool” scholarship fund to help support education. The scholarships were funded with the proceeds from his annual charity golf tournament.

LaDanian was an MVP both on and off the field.

Now, of course, football is not the only sport with nice players at the top…

  • Dwayne Wade

Dwayne Wade was a professional basketball superstar after only three seasons in the NBA. He won the 2006 NBA Final MVP when his team, the Miami Heat, won the 2006 NBA Championship. At the time, he was a 3-time NBA All-Star and Sports Illustrated magazine’s 2006 Sportsman of the Year. People magazine voted him one of the 50 Most Beautiful People in 2005. GQ magazine voted him the NBA’s best dressed player in 2006.

As amazing as his accomplishments were on the basketball court, he was known around the league as a constantly smiling, upbeat, soft-spoken and humble person. As sportswriter Henry Abbott wrote: “Wade doesn’t drink, smoke, or use drugs. He talks about God, he tithes, and he’d rather be seen in a suit and tie than a tattoo. He married his high-school sweetheart, whom he has known since he was nine. He is a doting father. He says please and thank you, even to reporters.”

One of Dwayne’s favorite books is “Pride and Prejudice,” which might seem an odd choice for a professional basketball player from the Southside of Chicago. But, as he explains: “Class struggle, overcoming stereotypes and humble beginnings, getting out of your own way and letting love take over: these are things I can relate to, definitely."

Dwayne was a giant both on and off the court.

“True power lies in gentleness. True greatness lies in humility.” 
- from my book "Yoga In A Book"

How to Be Really Cool

So, what can we learn from these exceptional sports superstars from the past?

More importantly, what can they teach us all about being really cool now?

The answer: Be really nice.

How can we do this?

By following the suggestion from the book "Conversations With God":

Simply ask ourselves “What would love do now?” and use this as the guide for our actions.

“My religion is very simple. My religion is kindness.” 

- the Dalai Lama