You’ve heard it, I’m sure, a thousand times – “be nice!”
Most of us have contributed to the chorus of mothers and fathers bending low, looking their little ones in the eye, and in the face of some conflict with siblings or peers instructing them to, “be nice!”
Webster’s defines “nice” as:
Pleasing; agreeable; delightful.
To behave in a friendly, ingratiating, or conciliatory manner.
Those are all “nice” ways of behaving – of interacting with our fellow human beings.
But are they good?
If we consider the messages that these words convey we will start to notice a nasty trend… At the root of each of them is people pleasing. What we usually mean when we tell our kids to “be nice” is to give in, yield, capitulate, surrender.
If they are simply defending their own selfishness, then yes, by all means, encourage them to yield to righteousness. But there are better ways to instruct them in that then simply saying, “be nice.” Calling out their selfishness is a great place to start.
But all too often, what we want when we tell our children to “be nice” is for them to stop whatever behavior is taking place so that they (and we) avoid conflict. Have you ever interrupted your child telling auntie that she needs Jesus because you know that auntie is a dyed-in-the-wool God-hater who has already raged in furious indignation over your “arrogance” in telling her how to live her life? What if God is pleased to use the voice of a little child to disarm her fury and penetrate her heart of stone?
What we do when we tell our kids to “be nice” is interrupt a different lesson that ought to occur. Even if auntie decides to rage at your little one – isn’t that a good (albeit hard) lesson to walk through with your child?
We know that God often teaches us the most profound lessons through the hardest things. Why do we want to take those things away from our children?
Following are five reasons I can think of – I’m sure there are more.
We teach our children to “be nice” so that…
- Conflicts will either stop or not arise at all rather than teach them how to resolve conflict in a God-honoring way (which is harder, takes more time, and more prayers for wisdom than we ever dreamed we’d need!).
- They will be well-liked among their peers. There is nothing inherently wrong with being well-regarded amongst one’s peers, but if we give the message to our children that this is our goal rather than the pleasant outcome of living with integrity, we have simply begun laying the foundation of building up little Pharisees rather than Disciples of Jesus. We are teaching them to care more about what others think about them than what God thinks about them.
- They will be well-liked among our Our children see to the heart of this pride with laser-like accuracy. We might not say it out loud, but we say it loud and clear nonetheless: “it matters more to mom (or dad) what my friends think of me than the person you are turning out to be.” (ouch!)
- They will climb the social ladders set before them. There is nothing inherently wrong with being successful in relationships – that’s actually a good gift from the Lord. But when we teach them that climbing social ladders is important we distort and pervert the true nature of God-honoring relationships. Rather than being willing to invest in the life of the other person because they have value and worth as image-bearers of the Almighty, we actually train them in manipulation techniques; I’ll be nice to you if you give me social standing – I’ll give you social standing if you “stroke” me by being “nice.” Incidentally, these are the “friendships” that crumble in the face of hardship, but understanding what they are based on makes it clear why they collapse when “nice-ness” is gone.
- Because we want them perceived as those who get along, don’t rock the boat, keep things smooth and so on. We want to save our children from the heartache of trials and tribulations. We want things to be easy and comfortable for our kids… because that is what we really want for ourselves. (ouch again!)
Our culture has elevated “nice” to a place of pre-eminance. We demand that “being nice” rule our public discourse. We demand that “being nice” rule our educational institutions. We operate in a way that places “being nice” as the highest form of virtue and have ceased to tolerate anything that disrupts the peace and harmony of “nice-ness.”
But is this what the Bible teaches us to value?
In a singular and resounding word – No!
Here is what the Bible says about our expectations of “getting along”:
- If the world hates you, know that it has hated me before it hated you. If you were of the world, the world would love you as its own; but because you are not of the world, but I chose you out of the world, therefore the world hates you. Remember the word that I said to you: ‘A servant is not greater than his master.’ If they persecuted me, they will also persecute you. If they kept my word, they will also keep yours. (John 15:18-20)
Living as believers guarantees that we will not be well-received. Let that sink in.
Don’t get me wrong – we’re not to go looking for conflicts, strife, and persecution. They’ll come along just fine on their own – trust me. And when our troubles are caused by our own foolishness or wickedness, we need to own the consequences, repent, and learn the lessons we can from them.
But in the course of living lives defined by the transformation of the Gospel within us – lives marked by Spirit-given gifts – we will not always be perceived as being “nice.” And as parents, it’s our job to prepare our children for the blows that will come as a result of being a disciple of Jesus.
Standing against sin will always bring with it trials of various kinds.
Rather than teaching our children to “be nice” how about if we use words like these as each situation demands:
- Of good courage
- A man/woman of integrity.
- Someone who stands up for the widows and orphans among you.
Each of these things will require you to take the time to explain them to your children according to their understanding. You will need to show them, for example, why avoiding a difficult conflict is not actually good for the other person – even when confrontation opens us up to false accusations and gossip. You can help them see how God is providing an opportunity to enter into the sufferings of Christ by allowing them to experience insults, and malicious claims against them the way Jesus did before he was crucified. You can help your child learn to bear the weight of other’s sin in this way because Jesus did it for him – and you will be, at the same time, helping your child to love his Savior all the more as the realization of the cost of the Cross becomes clearer to him through his own suffering.
We are not called to be people-pleasing, ease-and-comfort seeking survivors of this world. We are called to be God-glorifying, disciple-seeking, victorious citizens of the next. Let’s help one another teach our children how to do the same.