Our pastor, Bob Kaylor, is somewhat fond of saying that the word nice does not appear in the canon of scripture anywhere. “Thou shalt be nice” appears nowhere in the Law. In the Beatitudes Jesus does not say, “Blessed are the nice.” There are no parables about being nice, and never does Jesus say the Kingdom of God is a nice place. Yet somewhere through the centuries, we have come to believe that nice is a Christian virtue. Nice is overrated.
Yesterday Pastor Bob preached the last of his Fables for Families series using another one of Friedman’s Fables, “Cinderella” (hear the sermon here – read it here). The fable purports to be the transcript of a speech Cinderella’s stepmother gave to the National Association of Family Therapists. We had Cinderella’s mother come and deliver the address to our congregation. She gave her side of the story. She talked about how she really wasn’t “wicked” but rather was just trying raise her husband’s daughter the best way she knew how. There were several laughs as the stepmom of Cindy, as she calls her, described her as flaky and a dreamer who would always talk about how someday her prince would come. She made the point that sometimes wicked is in the eye of the beholder.
During this series I have also been reading Edwin Friedman’s Generation to Generation: Family Process in Church and Synagogue as I prepare for the second of my six retreats of the Center for Pastoral Effectiveness of the Rockies where I am learning to become a self-differentiated, non-anxious leader. One of my greatest discoveries has been that nice is sometimes counterproductive. I have reflected on times when my desire to be nice has led to struggles in ministry. I have become aware of conflicts that have been extended because I don’t want to hurt the other’s feelings. I have remembered times when my ministries were derailed for a season as my desire to be nice led me to perform that to which I was not called. My former allegiance to this false-god of niceness has been a distraction throughout my ministry. It is time to put niceness away.
Some may read this and wonder if now I have decided to become mean, evil, or wicked like Cindy’s stepmother. No. I don’t believe the opposite of nice is wicked. Rather I believe the opposite of nice is direct. I believe we can be kind and direct, and I want to appreciate when people are kind and direct with me.
Nice is holding on to the rope of the needy person. Direct is allowing the other to take responsibility for her/his own life and me for mine. Nice is avoiding the other’s exposed ganglia. Direct is acting with integrity toward another for his/her own good and the progress of the organization. Nice is getting caught up in triangle after triangle, avoiding the conflict. Direct is addressing the issues between the parties. Nice feeds our perfectionism and can make an end of a means. Direct keeps us focused on what really matters. Nice is long emails, conversations that dance around issues, unproductive chats about people, stress, avoidance, ulcers, sleepless nights, and the like. Direct is honest communication, dealing with issues even when they are unpleasant, swallowing the bitter pill, and moving on. Nice can be condescending while being direct allows the parties to be equals. Nice puts peace over progress. Direct focuses on moving forward.
I like direct better. Nice is overrated.