Did you grow up hearing the words, “Just be nice!” from your parents, teachers, and other authority figures in your world? I sure did. In every social circle, the message was reinforced over and over again. “Just be nice!”
To me that meant to ignore your feelings no matter (especially anger) and smile. It meant to push aside all conflict and unpleasantness, and cooperate with others. Smooth things over at your own expense. And always, always be sure to display a cheerful attitude with your voice and face.
When I became a Christian, the message of being nice continued. Now there was a purpose to being nice—to be a light in the dark world. After all, how can others see Jesus in us unless we are nice?
While I agree with this sentiment, working with people for years has shifted my thinking. Being nice isn’t enough. In fact, too much niceness is damaging.
As Christ-followers we are called to be kind, not necessarily nice. But “What’s the difference?” you might ask.
Niceness is usually superficial. It is not authentic, because it does not address motivations of the heart. It disguises anger and frustration as acceptable words spoken in sarcastic tones or with double meanings. It talks around problems without ever dealing with the issues. It may even fuel a martyr complex. The root motivation of niceness is the desire to be liked.
Kindness flows from within. It is authentic, because it is based on God’s wonderful, gracious love, and true compassion for others. The Holy Spirit produces deep and genuine kindness that is unshaken by circumstances. It does not shrink back from having a difficult conversation, because the desire for the best possible outcome is in mind. The root motivation of kindness is immovable confidence in God’s love for you as His unique, precious Child.
It is possible to be nice without being kind.
Being nice infects ministry. Leaders tolerate gossip and division, and don’t talk directly with the offenders. People don’t bring up concerns or dare to openly disagree with others. Ugliness festers under the surface, but everyone is nice to each other. After all, we don’t want anyone to leave. Kindness grieves when things under the surface aren’t right and works to make them so. Sometimes the kindest action is to encourage people to leave, so that they can find a place that is a better fit, and those remaining can thrive.
Being nice damages businesses. I spoke with a friend recently about his frustration at work. The owner talks about serving the public with excellence, and yet she tolerates less-than-excellent performance from her employees. She gives warnings, but nobody has yet to be fired, even with absences and drug abuse. The reason? “I want to be nice. They have kids and really need this job.” Sometimes it is kindness that fires a person, as a challenge to rise to the expectations in the work place. This also allows the company to live up to its potential.
Being nice harms relationships. People go months, even years, without communicating honestly. They say and do things to avoid rocking the boat. At some point, they can no longer stuff their frustration and it all comes pouring out in words they later regret. Then they make a promise that they will try harder to be nice, because getting angry didn’t work. I speak from experience. My husband and I were married for 12 years before we had a real conversation about things that caused us frustration. It was scary and vulnerable, but we were better for it, and it opened up the door for more healthy conversations.
An organization—family, workplace, church, service group—is only as strong as its weakest link. It is kindness that confronts weakness and encourages others to develop their potential. It is kindness that provides a safe place for honest communication. It is kindness that establishes boundaries and consequences, and then follows through, always with a loving and forgiving approach.
Nowhere in the Bible does it say to be nice (unless it’s in a modern translation I don’t know about). But it does instruct us to be kind.
I urge you to spend time in prayer and self-examination. Where have you substituted being nice for kindness? Ask the Lord to help you grow in kindness in life and as a leader.
Be kind to each other, tenderhearted, forgiving one another, just as God through Christ has forgiven you (Ephesians 4:32, NLT).
Since God chose you to be the holy people he loves, you must clothe yourselves with tenderhearted mercy, kindness, humility, gentleness, and patience (Colossians 3:12).
Love is patient and kind. Love is not jealous or boastful or proud or rude. It does not demand its own way. It is not irritable, and it keeps no record of being wronged. It does not rejoice about injustice but rejoices whenever the truth wins out. Love never gives up, never loses faith, is always hopeful, and endures through every circumstance (1 Corinthians 13:4-7).
Heavenly Father, thank You for Your kindness that never fails. Teach me to be kind and not to shrink from tough issues. Show me how to speak the truth in love, and always seek to please You rather than people. May I lead with confidence and kindness, doing what is best for others instead of what seems easiest. In Jesus’ name. Amen.