Stop Being Nice

To many in our society, especially in the church, it seems that being "nice" is the ultimate virtue and being "rude" is the ultimate vice. This is especially true for men and, most especially, for pastors. Pastors who are nice, sweet, empathetic, apologetic, and polite are often praised by the people in their congregations for being very "pastoral" and having excellent "bedside manner". Being a "nice guy" can cover a multitude of other serious sins and shortcomings. On the other hand, someone who has many other great qualities but comes across a little aloof or cold may be judged solely on the fact that he's not very nice.

But here's the main problem: niceness is not love. In fact, niceness may be one of love's greatest enemies. 

Being judged as "nice" is almost always based on making other people feel good about themselves. Ironically, making other people feel good about themselves is usually very unloving, because love does what is best for the other, regardless of how that makes anyone feel. As a result, being nice usually hurts other people. Being nice usually requires that you lie to others through flattery or condone their sin by refusing to hold them accountable. Love very often has the difficult task of letting other people take responsibility for their sin and shortcomings instead of enabling sinful habits and patterns. Niceness doesn't want to hurt anyone's feelings and so is like a doctor that refuses to inform a patient about his cancer.

The inability to be honest with people for fear of hurting feelings makes it impossible to cultivate true friendship. Healthy relationships are based on honesty and integrity, but the fakeness of being nice hinders deep relationship. Being nice means that you can't be honest with people about your own thoughts, opinions, or preferences because you're always walking on eggshells. Nice people rarely have substantial conversations and so never get to know one another. This sort of behavior fosters a social climate in which people are easily offended and withdraw from any relationship that makes them uncomfortable.

Because being nice undermines real community and relationship, it should go without saying that being nice is inherently self-destructive. It's no accident that the nicest people are almost always plagued by anxiety and troubled relationships. Niceness, and the insecurity that breeds niceness, produces anxiety, fear, and bitterness. Niceness is constantly worried about what other people think and gets resentful when other people don't offer the approval being sought. Nice people are not able to deal with sin (confronting others or confessing one's own), which means that conflict can't be handled in a healthy way and bitterness inevitably takes root. Niceness ultimately destroys the relationships it was supposedly trying to protect.

Finally, being nice is selfish. The main reason for being nice to other people is so that other people will think well of you. Making other people feel good about themselves is almost always an attempt to feel good about yourself. There are many different terms to describe this selfishness: "Peer pressure" usually amounts to doing things you know are wrong in a desperate attempt to be accepted. "People pleasers" use various means to avoid conflict and earn favor with others. "Codependency" describes needing other people to need you in order to feel good about yourself. However, the best biblical term for all this is "fear of man". Whatever you call it, all forms of niceness are selfish and sinful. Instead of giving sacrificially in order to seek the good of someone else, niceness only demonstrates counterfeit "love" as a guise for self-love. The fear of man is ultimately a failure to trust God's promises. It's caring more about the opinions of others than about God's word. It's an attempt to cover the weakness and vulnerability of our mortal flesh with the fig leaves of niceness instead of confessing sin and receiving God's forgiveness.

So, if someone calls you nice, sweet, empathetic, polite, etc. (especially as a pastor or leader), you should probably not take that as a compliment! If you look closely at how Jesus interacted with people in the Gospels, He wasn't exactly what we would consider "nice". That's because He loved people too much to be nice to them. The cure for niceness isn't rudeness; it's love. The virtues that we are called to put on in Col. 3:12-15 describe the character of Jesus and show us what true love really looks like. See my sermon from 9/2/2018 for further explanation of that passage. 


RECOMMENDED READING:

When People Are Big and God Is Small (Ed Welch)

A Failure of Nerve (Edwin Friedman)

The Peacemaker (Ken Sande)

No Time for Cowards
Rulers, Authorities, and the Elements of the World