In mystery author Agatha Christie’s biography, she wrote about her father’s death. Many of those present at the funeral said the same thing about the late Mr. Miller. “He was a nice man.” She went on to state that niceness is underrated, which may be the understatement of the century. I realize that nice isn’t specifically listed as one of the virtues, but I would argue that being nice is a prerequisite for the theological virtue of charity.
We often mistakenly assume that a nice person must be a doormat as if the only way to live up to our potential is by making demands and placing our needs and desires in the top priority slot.
Being nice is treating the other person with mercy and compassion. Nice is about being with others without the need to assert ourselves. Nice is about the other, which is contrary to a secular society that teaches us me first at all costs.
If a friend likes a brand of shoes that we think is inferior, do we make sure they know that their choice doesn’t stand up to ours? If a relative tells us about a book he or she loved, do we feel the need to shoot down the plot holes and lack of character arc as if we were a professional critic? If someone orders a piece of pie for dessert, do we chide that person about calories and cholesterol?
All of those reactions put the focus on ourselves. In all three instances, we push aside the other person’s joy for a display of superiority.
Our lack of niceness can have bigger repercussions. If we disagree with our boss’s approach, do we give them the benefit of the doubt, maybe even talk to him or her about our concerns, or do we gossip with other employees in order to swing them around to our point of view? Do we write a critical letter to the higher ups? When the pastor makes us uncomfortable because he has us looking at behaviors we’d rather ignore, do we send him anonymous letters and complain to the bishop?
If we present ourselves as Christians, how we treat others will have a direct impact on how they see Jesus, and since His command wasn’t “Go out and turn people off the Gospel”, we need to pause before we speak and act.
And yes, we need to speak out against sin, but we need to do it with the quiet voice of kindness. We need to be nice about it. This is the difference between shouting down pro-abortion activists and offering better choices to women who don’t see any other option.
Nice is not weak. It takes self-control to edit our immediate response. It takes humility to see a human being loved by Jesus behind the person who makes an offensive comment. Work at it until it becomes your natural response, and then through you, Jesus will illuminate the world.
©Jacqueline Vick, 2017