Sunday, January 21, 2007

Being Nice

(A friend challenged me to write a blog with no words over two syllables. I believe this accomplishes that).

Every once in a while I'm accused of being too nice. This doesn't happen often so it's not something I worry about. Plus, of all the things to be accused of, this is far from the worse. When someone suggests that my niceness may be a bad thing, my most common response is "I'm really not that nice". People may argue and take offense at my remark, and while I value their feedback, I know myself better than they do, and the truth is, niceness is not something I possess a lot of. I can be nice, but a strain of niceness is not pulsing through my body. It, in other words, does not define me.

I think one of the reasons people argue is that in today's world, niceness is often valued far above anything else. Calling someone "mean" is a violent insult. To be nice is more highly prized than being right. My mom faces this with her junior high students when they've done something they shouldn't. They'll say that she's yelling at them and being mean, when (as those who know my mom can attest) my mom is the type of person who rarely raises her voice. She's likely talking sternly to them, but she's not yelling. Her students though are used to being coddled and told their feelings are what matters most. And as I can attest, being on the wrong end of my mother's justice is not always good for your feelings, but far more often than not, her actions are right.

While this pertains to junior high students it also pertains to the world at large. This week the Pope got into some deep trouble because of some comments he made about Islam. People were upset at his remarks – not always because they thought they were wrong– but because they viewed them as mean. Whether or not what he said was true seemed to get lost in the debate. What mattered was that he had caused offense.

In a similar vein, I was talking with a friend the other day who told me that he wasn't that nice of a person. This bluntness surprised me and I started to argue. Later, though, I realized that he's right. He's not nice - at least not in the "Mary Poppins-spoon-full-of-sugar-there's always a bright side" type of way - which is how I think most people mean it. But he's a great guy and I'm pretty sure that if I needed him - he'd be there (he might argue that point after he reads this blog). I'm also pretty sure that he gives his heart one hundred percent to those he loves and that he wants to be the type of man that he'd be proud of. You hang around long enough and he'll be sure to offend you, but he's real – and that's saying something that most "nice" people can't.

That's because niceness is so easily faked. Someone does not have to be sincere to be nice; they just have to get along with those around them. Whether or not their beliefs correspond with their actions does not matter. A lot of times it seems that people are nice because they want other people to think they are, not because a deep love for their fellow human being compels them. A precious few choose instead to be real. They give up being nice for the sake of being nice and instead align their action with what is right, trusting that in doing so their actions will show love. It's a tough road to follow because it means, like the Pope, you may get into some deep trouble. Doing what's right is not always the quickest way to win friends and there's a real chance that that people won't like you. But we aren't called to be nice or to be liked, we're called to love. And love compels us to align our actions with what's good, noble and pure, despite what people may think.

When Christ was on Earth, He caused a lot of offense. His actions, though, were always informed by love. So should ours. After all, love is a much higher aim than niceness – and a greater challenge to achieve.



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