“A world of nice people, content in their own niceness, looking no further, turned away from God, would be just as desperately in need of salvation as a miserable world—and might be even more difficult to save.” ~ C.S. Lewis
I was reading a blog post by Shannon, who’s one of my friends I’ve had since childhood. You should go read her thoughts on being nice. The thoughts are interesting and well written, as all her posts are, and they made me remember the above quote by C.S. Lewis.
I think I’m nice. I think most people, at their best, are nice. But is nice the best we can do? Is nice enough? I think we stop at nice. Nice itself has become the end instead of a means to an end.
Most of the time that I”m nice, it’s about me and not about you. It’s not so much about making you feel worthy of niceness. It’s more about me feeling satisfied that I acted nicely. If you’re blessed in the process, then that’s a good side effect. What’s more is, if I’m satisfied and content in my own niceness, then I truly do look no further. I’ve reached the end. I’ve been nice.
I can be nice without being meaningful. I can be nice without being purposeful. I can be nice without being Godly. I can be nice without being useful. I can be nice without being consequential. I can be nice without being truly engaged in the lives of others.
The struggle many people face is the reverse of this; that they can make themselves do the right thing but they have trouble doing it nicely with a smile on their face. They do their duty to avoid guilt but without being pleasant. Your hands can surely perform good works independent of your mouth speaking and smiling nicely. All this is true and often seen.
But I intend to watch myself now for the opposite: nice is enough. I want my niceness in ordinary situations to make people willing to listen to me in hard situations. My mouth can smile itself through a decade and be of little use if it won’t say the challenging things needed in some situations. Or I could even avoid needed conflict or tension in the name of remaining nice, which is of little use to anyone.
If I’m not careful, I remain nicely and neatly unattached to much of anything. Pleasant but purposeless. Kind but careless. Polite but pointless. Urbane but useless or even fun but futile. We all know people (or we are the people) who will be predictably pleasant always but, of no real use, because moving beyond niceness towards making a difference might threaten niceness itself!
Nice isn’t enough and it’s not the point. Nice is a tool; a useful and needed tool but, in the end, just a tool. We use tools to do worthy things. I must own a hammer to help someone build a home. But a hammer never put to a task is pointless; wasted potential. And knowing the hammer is a tool doesn’t devalue the hammer or the home it is being used to build. So don’t jump to the conclusion that your use of niceness as a tool somehow devalues you or the recipient of your kindness. Niceness doesn’t become perverted or self-seeking just because we bring it out of our normal abstract use of it and make it intentional and purposeful.
All of this leads me to a new thought. I wonder if the forces of evil are using niceness as a tool against us. I wonder if Satan is content to have us nice so long as it doesn’t lead anywhere else. If we’ve been convinced that nice is enough, then we’re just as effectively imprisoned as if we were shackled in chains. We could be tethered to the anchor of niceness. If so, nice isn’t a starting place but rather an ending place.
I think it’s time I check my shackles and sharpen my tools. Nice is necessary. It can lead to goodness, usefulness and purpose. But nice isn’t enough.