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On a discussion forum that I participate in, my friend Robin recently asked this question:
“Which is more important? (only one)
I know it’s ideal to be a combination of both. I hope we are all striving to find ways to be honest and kind.
But – when things get tricky and tensions run high are you more likely to opt for nice or honest?”
I have been really thinking about this most excellent question for a couple of days, now.
So the question that arose in my mind, since I call myself a follower of Jesus, is “How would Jesus answer that question? How did He behave?”
I’ve been studying (and even writing on) the Gospel of Luke in my own quiet times this summer, and so I’ve been giving a fair amount of thought to the question, “What was Jesus really like?”. I’ve been asking myself, from my reading, what do I learn? What was important to him? How did He interact with people?
And, you know, I think there is a bit of a disconnect for some of us, culturally at least.
In my experience in the church, and in the South in particular, some of us almost seem to think we have to be “nicer than Jesus”.
In my study this summer, I’ve seen that in certain situations, Jesus wasn’t particularly “nice”. Overturning those money tables in the temple courtyard was probably not perceived as particularly nice. He got some people in His hometown synagogue so riled up and angry with Him, they were ready to take him to the edge of a cliff in town and pitch Him off. Ultimately, it was the hatred of the Pharisees, along with the nonchalant complicity and apathy of the Romans, that killed him.
And yet He was kind to the lepers, who were completely untouchable. He touched them. He had conversations with women, even though Jewish men of his day didn’t just sit down and have heart to heart talks with women whom they met beside the well of a strange town. He was kind to the widow who’d lost her only son – bringing the boy back to life from the dead. He was kind to the children who came to Him, blessing them when they came to Him.
He spoke truth to the Pharisees, but I bet at the time they didn’t really think He was being so nice. (Well, after all, he did call them vipers, whitewashed tombs, and other not so nice things.) On the other hand, the intent behind those appellations was nothing but loving, for His greatest desire was for them to open their eyes and see their own need.
So if our goal is to be like Christ, the idea here is: we love God with all our heart, and we love our neighbor as ourself.
And we speak the truth in love.
But to those who need an extra measure of grace, we extend that extra measure of grace.
And that’s harder than hard to do.
Especially, as my friend Robin qualified in her question, “when things get tricky, and tensions run high”.
Robin responded to the thoughts I’ve shared so far by wondering if “being nice at all costs” might not be part of a process that some of us must go through, on our way to being honest in a balanced way, and I think for many of us, there’s a lot of truth to that.
In our struggle to be nice at all costs, what we sometimes are (perhaps unknowingly) manifesting is an underdeveloped sense of boundaries. Thinking back on what I’ve learned about boundaries, an underdeveloped sense of boundaries sometimes look like this: we simply cannot bear the idea of anyone else being upset with us, and so we bend over backwards to never ever bother or in any way displease anyone else. Even disagreement over ideas is extremely uncomfortable for us, because that might equal someone being upset with us. Avoiding conflict at all costs is a priority, because of the discomfort it brings us, personally. Guess what the person with boundary issues in these areas will choose, when it comes to valuing honesty vs. being “nice”? Being “nice” will triumph, every time,
I will say that as I have become more clear in my own life as to what appropriate boundaries look like between myself and others, I believe I am becoming more capable of responding with truthfulness AND kindness, both at the same time.
Maybe that has a bit to do with a phenomenon mentioned to me by several of my friends who have reached a certain age, and who jokingly refer to their “filter being broken’. They find themselves quite willing to say things that they never would have dreamed of uttering in years gone by. Maybe that’s because a lot of us are recovering boundary-less individuals, who have finally figured out some more appropriate boundaries: where “I” end, and “you” begin. When to say yes, and how to say no.
And so maybe, for some of us, on a good day, “my filter is broken”, is actually code for: “I’ve finally learned to recognize and own the issues that are mine, and when I recognize in a situation that certain issues are yours, I’ve finally learned how to kindly tell you the truth, as I understand it, rather than telling you what I think you want to hear.”
Of course…as I said, that’s on a good day.
Some days…my filter really is just broken.
And on those days, batten down the hatches, boys.
Or, in the immortal words of Bette Davis, when she played Margot Channing in “All About Eve”,
What is your fallback reaction? Do you lean toward honesty, or being nice?