“Be nice!” is probably an admonition you’ve heard spoken by everyone, from your kindergarten teacher to your mother, especially if you were a particularly rowdy type of kid (if you know what I mean).
Other variations of this favored saying of teachers and parents everywhere?
- “Don’t tell Miss Fanny her butt looks big in that dress, even if she asks…that’s rude.”
- “Don’t talk about politics or religion when we visit Uncle Sammy, that’s bad manners.”
- “Don’t ask Mrs. Mal why she looks sad, it’ll make her uncomfortable and besides, it’s none of your beeswax.”
Now, some of the above advice may be helpful, depending on the context. But even if such advice works in some cases, there are other situations where blindly following these suggestions will do more harm than good.
But how do you know if speaking or not-speaking will be helpful or hurtful?
Here’s an easy litmus test:
Are you refraining from telling the truth, speaking your mind, or asking after the well-being of others because you’re just trying to be nice?
If so, even if the immediate effect of your silence or white lie appears to be peace and harmony, in the long term, you’re setting people up for a world of hurt.
Christians, or people who respect Jesus, are particularly in danger of this wrong-headed kind of thinking where “nice = Good.”
They think that Jesus was a “nice guy” (after all, it’s not every day that the God of the Universe decides to turn himself into a human to suffer alongside us).
But they don’t really understand that while Jesus did sacrifice himself for humanity, he was NOT nice.
Not even close.
Jesus Was Not Nice, He Was Kind
Matthew 19 and Mark 10 record this interesting story:
Jesus was busy teaching eager crowds when some random people came up with their children, in the hopes that Jesus would bless the kids.
Jesus disciples reacted as good bodyguards ought to, blocking their way, telling them not to bother the great teacher, but Jesus was indignant:
“Let the little children come to me, and do not hinder them, for the kingdom of God belongs to such as these,” he said, then “took the children in his arms…and blessed them.”
“Well, that sounds like a nice thing to do!” you protest.
Maybe, for the parents and their children.
But not for the disciples.
Here they were, trying to protect their exhausted teacher (who had been busy doing important work all day), from the lowly, annoying rabble who wanted even more from him…
And instead of appreciating their efforts, Jesus scolded them and invited the children over anyway. He even said, “the kingdom of God belongs to such as these”!
Reading between the lines: “The kingdom of God does not belong to such as you. You need to learn from these innocent children, you big, self-important men.”
In other words, Jesus was not “nice.”
“Nice” is what certain politicians do when they want to win votes, kissing babies and posing for photo-ops with vulnerable folk whom they don’t actually care about in their heart of hearts.
Jesus didn’t do that.
He rebuked his disciples, his own friends, in order to welcome these strangers’ children. Then he not only embraced and welcomed the children, but taught everyone present that they needed to be more like these little ones, to boot.
You see, nice people and kind people don’t have the same motivations:
- Nice people ask you how you’re doing. Kind people actually want to know.
- Nice people tell you what you want to hear so that you will do what they want. Kind people tell you the hard truths you don’t want to hear, so that you can be a better you.
- Nice people treat you well because they want your approval. Kind people treat you well because they want your well-being.
In certain circumstances, the outward behavior of both nice and kind people appear the same. But when times are bad, and the rubber meets the road, it’s the kind people you really want around you, not the nice ones.
Jesus Was Not Nice, He Was IMPOLITically Correct
Another thing: Jesus was candid.
In other words, he said what he thought, when it was right to say it.
Of course, he didn’t go blurting out everything that came to mind, like a cracked fire hydrant.
But he didn’t shy away from saying some pretty unpopular stuff too, if it was true…even knowing that people hated it so much they wanted to kill him.
Jesus was particularly nasty, you could say, to the people known as the “scribes and Pharisees.” (They were basically the leading politicians and academics of the day)
He called them “blind guides,” “a brood of vipers,” and “whitewashed tombs.” (Matthew 12, 23)
Not because they were scribes and Pharisees, but because they were hypocrites.
They told people what to do without doing it themselves. They made up a bunch of rules that burdened the folk they were supposed to be helping and put on airs as if they were some kind of holy brotherhood of elites. (Sound familiar?)
And Jesus didn’t just call out the Pharisees.
- When he met a woman by a well who had had, let’s say, serious relationship problems, Jesus had no qualms telling her, “you have had five husbands, and the man you are now living with is not your husband.” (John 4)
- After he healed a man who had been lame, Jesus told him point-blank to “stop sinning or something worse may happen to you.” (John 5)
- And Jesus even scolded his own disciple, Peter, when Peter was out of line, with some pretty choice words: “Get behind me, Satan!” (Matthew 16)
In other words, Jesus was an equal-opportunity-rebuker.
You do something wrong? Jesus will tell you about it. To your face. Without mincing words.
But Jesus was a master at rebukes. He scolded people, but because he loved them too, he always did it in the way that was best suited for them.
With the Pharisees, who were a hardened pack of hypocrites, and with his own disciple, who hung out with him every day and knew him well, Jesus spoke bluntly and painfully.
With the woman at the well, Jesus wasn’t so harsh, although he was equally honest, telling her the truth of her past, and letting her draw her own conclusions.
And with the man that he healed, Jesus didn’t throw any insults, but he also didn’t hide the fact that the man’s illness had something to do with his past wrongdoing.
Either way, Jesus did not hide or fudge the truth in order to “spare people’s feelings.”
Because Jesus’ goal wasn’t to make people feel good.
It was to get people saved.
And you can only be saved from something when you realize how it’s destroying you, whether “it” is hypocrisy, self-deception, or any other kind of immorality or sin.
So Jesus ignored “niceness” and “political correctness” in order to tell people what they needed (not wanted) to hear.
Jesus Was Not Nice, He Was The Lion of Judah
In the Bible, Jesus was called the “lamb of God,” meaning that he was to be the sacrifice for humanity’s sins. But elsewhere, he was also called the “Lion of Judah”
And like the stereotype of symbolic lions everywhere, that meant he was courageous.
Case in point:
Once, when Jesus entered a temple and found money-grubbing marketers selling animals inside, he “made a whip out of cords, scattered [their] coins, and overturned their tables,” yelling at them, “How dare you turn my Father’s house into a market!” (John 2)
Make no mistake. This was NOT an uncontrolled temper tantrum.
This was a very-much-controlled display of power.
Jesus not only took the time to braid a whip out of cords, he also made sure to overturn the tables of the money changers, and NOT those of the people who sold doves (likely in order to keep from injuring the caged doves).
Jesus didn’t ask the money-grubbers to leave, nicely.
He made them leave. Because it was the right thing to do.
And when the angry people demanded an explanation, he gave a cryptic answer that they didn’t understand. Not that he cared.
Because he did not say it for them, nor did he do his whole chase-the-money-changers-out-of-the-Temple thing in order to win fans.
Jesus always did what he did and said what he said to honor his Father God. He had principles, and he stuck by them. Even when it meant pissing off other people.
If You Want to be Like Jesus, Don’t “Be Nice”
Even if you DON’T like Jesus or want to be like him, you’d do well to take this lesson to heart and stop trying to “be nice.”
Because life isn’t good to cowards, hypocrites, and loveless, weak-willed people. Maybe temporarily, but not forever.
But more importantly, it’s only when you stop caring about “being nice” that you can really find out what you’re made of, and what matters in this short life you’ve been given.
- It’s only when you stop caring about “being nice” that you can learn to be kind, to care about people genuinely, and not act like you care…just so you can win useless brownie points.
- It’s only when you stop caring about “being nice” that you can say what you really think, fearlessly, fulfill your own potential, and help others fulfill their potential too.
- It’s only when you stop caring about “being nice” that you can be brave and accomplish true goals that make a real difference in this world.
“Being nice” is just another way of “being an imposter” and you have no time for imposter-ing, not when every day that passes is another day you’ll never be able to get back.
Of course, you might (rather, you WILL) face horrible opposition if you choose to take this road. Jesus, after all, was killed for not being “nice.”
But as Shakespeare once wrote:
“A coward dies a thousand times before his death, but the valiant never taste of death but once.”
So Here’s the Deal
I have decided to stop trying to be nice.
Instead, I’m going to shoot for “kind, candid, and courageous.” Starting with my writing.
It’s going to be hard, like an alcoholic weaning herself off her bottle, but it must be done. Too many personal experiences have tried to teach me this truth over and over again, and I’ve ignored them all.
No more. From now on, Stupid Sarah is going to get Smart. Or rather, Wise.
From now on, I am going to shoot for kind, honest, and brave instead of nice.
I may not always hit the target, but I’m going to make a start.
If you’re ready to join me, welcome.
Let’s stake this misguided-niceness-business through the heart once and for all, and hopefully, in the process, become just a little bit more like Jesus.
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