Generally, most of us want to be nice — and are deemed nice. We care about people, respect their differences, and we seek to around nice people ourselves.
Persons who don’t behave nicely in our society create enough ugliness — with no need for us to add any more. So setting our response default firmly on “niceness” is important.
But can the call for “niceness” go too far? I guess it depends on what one means by being nice.
Sometimes it is a call to never say anything negative about another person’s perspective. This call may get backed up by noting that everyone has a right to his or her opinion, and offering up a biblical imperative to not judge others.
For some, any disagreement or tension makes them uncomfortable. Therefore, they prefer to pretend everything is fine when it’s not. Even ignoring injustice often gets excused as being polite.
For example, Southerners are really nice; that has helped a great deal in ignoring or excusing the region’s long dark history of racism.
So there is a big question to consider: If being nice includes ignoring injustice and abuse, is it really nice?
Indeed, everyone has an opinion. The truth, however, is that not all opinions are equally true and helpful. And some advance their falsehoods to the point of justifying, or even advancing, the mistreatment of others.
To “be nice” at such times can actually ignore or enable attitudes and behaviors that are anything but nice.
Clearly, this reality does not excuse obnoxious self-certainty and the corresponding aggression aimed at straightening everyone else out. And, equally clear, one is wise to look before leaping.
That is, we should choose our opportunities carefully for speaking out with boldness against what is deservedly considered an offense — not to our fragile personal opinions, but rather something that misrepresents and/or mistreats those who lack the political or economic power to defend themselves.
Sometimes it’s simply right to speak up for the rights and dignity of others — even if when those around us chide us toward, or choose for themselves, silent complicity in the name of being nice and keeping the peace.
Sadly, we lack good models in high-profile public life — with so many politicians and big shot religious leaders who speak up, tell lies or go silent depending on which action best serves their personal agendas.
There is a serious assault on truth now to the degree that people use the term to describe what they want reality to be with little regard for a factual basis. Even someone speaking under oath — so help me, God — doesn’t necessarily produce honesty, but rather political loyalty.
However, there are better places to look for our examples of being kind while not closing our eyes to and silencing our voices about the mistreatment of others. In fact, Jesus models this approach quite well.
Contemporary models tend to be off the stage and TV screen, and not be the most boisterous posters in social media. Rather they live faithfully among us — in our churches and communities — if we pay attention.
Yet what could be more important than to be good examples ourselves of those who model well-balanced kindness toward others while never sacrificing the call to be salt and light in a moral morass?
Countering false narratives and speaking up for those mistreated in ways that reflect nothing of how Jesus taught us to relate to others — especially those pushed to the margins of life — are of greater concern than polite social behavior.
Jesus, not Emily Post, is the one we are to emulate most.
Generally, Christians don’t pay a lot of attention to Jesus because he compels us to do things we’d rather not do — especially those things involving self-denial and embracing those who are demeaned or disregarded in our society.
Yet Jesus reserved his harshest, condemning words, not for social outcasts, but for the powerful elite who claimed God’s highest favor. Today, many who claim to follow Jesus arrogantly levy their power against those persons they denigrate as inferior — or support the political apparatus that seeks such a goal.
To let that attitude and behavior continue without saying a word or challenging such a gross misrepresentation of the Gospel is not being nice. And it is not being faithful to the call of Christ.