I’ve been involved in a few online conversations in the past week concerning some people and issues important to me. All of them were emotionally charged; one of them left me feeling like I’d understood and affirmed the other folks’ comments (& vice versa), one remained at a rather superficial level which kept things polite, and the last one left me feeling like I was the goop between the toes of worms. All of them left me feeling perplexed and wondering: what are the differences here? Other than the people involved, what factors contributed to these conversations which led to radically different outcomes?
I have a few thoughts…
Nice: pleasing, agreeable, delightful; amiable, pleasant, kind;
Is it just me or does the world, like the dictionary, use “nice” and “kind” as synonyms? Yet when we compare and contrast the words, it sounds like they having very different meanings. There’s a lot of demand for us to be “nice” (be nice to siblings, be nice on the playground, be nice in school, be nice at work, be nice online, be nice, be nice, be nice); yet I’m finding that our niceness often acts only as a veneer for tolerable civility when we really aren’t getting along.
Kindness, to me, is much harder. Kindness connotes seeing the real person in front of me, understanding the real needs of the situation at present, and responding in such a way that God’s love shines. “Nice” just tells me to be polite enough so that I don’t get into trouble. And maybe there are times and places for that! Where would we all be without our table manners and Mom nagging us to remember “please” and “thank you”? Anarchy, I say!
But when we settle for “nice”, I think a few things emerge:
1. We aren’t honest in our conversations with people — on or offline — because we’re either afraid of speaking our truth, or we feel the person speaking is so beneath us that there’s no point other than to pretend to listen or we’re just glad to have found a quick way to withdraw from uncomfortable chats.
2. We can become people-pleasers to the point that social change and community growth is impeded. We walk on so many eggshells, hell-bent on offending anyone (which isn’t entirely a wrong motive!), that nothing productive comes from our words or relationships. We’re just that nice.
3. We become condescending and smug. We assume from the get-go that we’re in the right, so we tolerate the other person’s words with gracious civility (& again, civility isn’t a bad thing to learn!), but we have absolutely NO intention of actually hearing the other person out because to us they’re already wrong, offensive, or stupid.
“Nice” has become our No Person’s Land where we find ourselves when we want to look like we’re being loving, but we really would much rather avoid confrontation, slam the other person’s point of view, or look at the person from a distance rather than getting too close.
“Kind”, on the other hand, is in the DNA of the fruit of the Spirit (Galations 5:22). Kindness connotes embracing discomfort when having conversations; daring to ask, in humility, what the other person meant in their comments so as better to understand, rather than better to judge. Kindness is grown slowly over seasons of Spirit’s presence; kindness has “aha!” moments that allow us to see with clarity how our words, intentionally or unintentionally, have hurt or offended or confused others; kindness is a difficult choice, especially when we’ve been hurt, but would elevate the relationship between me and the other person to healthier ; kindness desires the other person, and the very best for that person while creating community — communion — together. Sometimes, I think, nice gets in the way of that.
Trust me, I’m not advocating for being an online jerk. The first conversation — the one that I felt was mutually beneficial — saw people asking others “Could you clarify what you meant by “….”?”, “I’d like to understand better where you’re coming from, so could you give me an idea of what this means?”, “You know what? I disagree with you because of A, B, & C, but I see where you’re coming from a little better now. Thanks!”
The second conversation saw a lot of “Yes” and “No” answers to questions, the “thumbs-up” icon, and plenty of “thank yous”. Remember I said that manners and civility are still critical to how we dialogue as people? It wasn’t the endless stream of thank yous that irked me, but rather way the comment had a way of shutting down potentially engaging conversation. Everyone sounded civil, but the meat of the conversation was absent.
The third conversation was one where I was baited into replying. We’ve all been there. Someone makes what we believe are cruel or ignorant comments, we take these comments personally, and respond during times of high emotion.
Not a good recipe.
Yet looking back I know I did my level best to be clear, be honest, and yes… be kind. I was accused of making a “hate-filled diatribe”; of ironically responding the way I was “accusing” the initial person had begun the conversation. Was hate anywhere in my emotion or intention? No! Was sadness? Yes. But my comments were not being taken seriously, since doctrine had already trumped any insight I might have had to offer. I felt awful afterwards… two inches tall… like nothing… between my own confusion about how it all went down, and how other comments were presented, I felt like I’d just been beaten up by the bike racks.
And who knows? Maybe others felt the same way after interacting with me. I bowed out after being accused of offering hate. Hate’s another big word, and means big things. I don’t want hate to be a part of my life, so if that was how I was being perceived I played nice and bowed out.
This past week Alberta voted in the New Democrats as our provincial government. It made global history because “the little party that could” unseated the reigning Progressive Conservative party after a 44 year dynasty. The vitriol on social media was as crazy as it was laughable. Alberta, known for being a conservative province, needed change. No question. But instead of voting in the Wildrose Party (a party more right of centre than the PCs), people chose the NDPs (a party left of centre).
Suddenly we’re a bunch of socialists and communists… people are moving away because we’re all going to lose our jobs… we’re stupid… we’re idiots… we’re die-hard capitalists who voted in the USSR! (which fell a long time ago, as you know). The absurdity of it all was a thing to laugh at, only because the hurtful power exercised over disappointed conservatives was incredible. Prophecy-based Christian groups were declaring the end times, and how other Christians who voted PC were “falling away”.
Would NDP supporters have reacted any differently, had the outcome been conservative? Likely not.
How do we “be”.
In being, how do we be kind? How do we be nice (when called for)? How do we “be” together, on and offline, knowing that our communion with one another far outweighs any doctrine, philosophy, policy, or political adage in the world? I experienced it in one conversation. How do I carry those factors from one conversation to another? How is this kindness cultivated?
How do we be together?