I had an experience recently where I tried to politely decline a request. I thought I had been clear, firm, and still nice the first time I said, “No, not right now.” The person asking kept asking… and asking… and asking. And each time I said no in a new and still polite way, it became harder. Finally after months, I found myself in a volunteer role I didn’t want and feeling quite resentful toward the whole experience.
In her book, Nice: Why We Love to Be Liked and How God Calls Us to More, Sharon Hodde Miller describes my experience. She says that niceness for the sake of placating and being polite can often lead to disillusionment and cynicism. Miller isn’t calling for people to be rude or inconsiderate but she does take the stance that we need to be firm, honest, and unwavering.
This starts with responses to requests but is rooted in our faith. In the context of White Churches who stayed quiet during the Civil Rights Movement, Miller reminds us of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr’s words from Birmingham Jail,
“Shallow understanding from people of good will is more frustrating than absolute misunderstanding from people of ill will. Lukewarm acceptance is much more bewildering than outright rejection.”Martin Luther King, Jr, Letter from Birmingham Jail
Miller expands on King’s statement by saying that in pursuit of niceness, good Christians were, “…committed to the status quo than they were to justice. They were more committed to comfort than they were to courage. They had good intentions – great intentions! – but they weren’t willing to count the cost of them” (pg 77).
Throughout the book, Miller reminds her readers that the fruits of niceness can often be unhealthy and rotten. God calls us to a faith that steps out into the world of justice and pushing against the status quo. It is a faith that is uncomfortable and deep. This can make those around us feel uneasy but by sugarcoating injustices with the excuse of keeping the peace or being polite, we are failing the call of the message of good news.
I appreciate that Miller doesn’t call for unkind confrontation but rather thoughtful subversion and intentional pushback. She warns that niceness can lean to bigger divides than we realize while sacrificing the very character of Jesus.
This book came at the right time for me. It was a reminder to stand firm, not only in my boundaries with others but also in what I’ve learned about my faith itself. How do I engage in thoughtful conversation without ignoring my own convictions?
If you’ve ever been caught in an uncomfortable place because you tried to be too nice, this book is an encouraging reminder that we can be in community while also standing true to our beliefs.
Has being too nice ever gotten you in trouble? How do you balance politeness with conviction?
I received this book free from the publisher via Baker Books Bloggers in exchange for my honest opinion. Disclosure: Amazon Affiliate links included in this post. If you click through to Amazon, any purchase you make supports this site.