It’s Narcissist Friday!
I wonder when America chose being nice as its highest value. Was it just since movies and television? We have several old photos of ancestors, and one common thread, no matter what branch of the family, is that they are not smiling. You get the impression that they were not nice people. Today, everybody puts on phony smiles so they can pretend to be nice, but maybe being nice wasn’t such a high value back then.
Sometime someone decided that we should all be nice. We were told to be nice to our siblings and praised for being nice children. No matter what someone was doing, we could get them in trouble by accusing them of not being nice. We wore nice clothes, drew nice pictures, acted nice on the playground, and said our prayers like nice little boys and girls. And, somehow, that was supposed to be more spiritual.
But being nice also meant not telling the whole truth much of the time. Just keep your opinions to yourself. It meant not dealing with abuses done by those who weren’t so nice. It meant not bringing up those abuses, even to those who could do something about them. Our goal was not to be honest or forthright or strong, just to be nice.
Nice people became prey for the predators, food for the hungry users and abusers. Churches still do nothing about abuses because the leaders are bound to portraying themselves as nice. Church discipline isn’t nice. Confronting people with their sins isn’t nice. And, since we are all so willing to suffer to be seen as nice, leaders are willing to let people suffer. We just want a nice church.
Years ago I found a coffee cup with a grumpy character on it and the words, “No More Mr. Nice Guy!” I had it on my desk one day when someone who disagreed with me saw it and said, “What do you mean, ‘no more’?” In other words, she thought I had stopped being nice when I disagreed with her on something. And maybe I was never all that nice.
You see, I believe the church should confront the abuser and cannot let the abused feel alone and abandoned. I have had to do it several times and I hated it every time. It wasn’t nice and some of the people thought I wasn’t nice. People left our church because we stood up for those who were being hurt and confronted the ones who were judgmental and unkind. My only regret was in not doing it earlier in several cases.
The word, “nice,” has an interesting history. It comes to us from Latin, through Old French and Middle English, and means—are you ready?—stupid! It suggested a simpleton who didn’t know when someone was being cruel or antagonistic. We can imagine someone with a silly grin on his face as people taunt him. To be nice was to misunderstand what was going on.
Well, isn’t that about right? In our desire to be nice, we allow the narcissists and abusers to control churches and governments and families. We stand there with stupid grins on our faces while they say whatever they want no matter how much it hurts us. (I’m sorry, I know that hits close to home.) We let them get by with their nastiness time after time. And, all the while, they think of us as stupid.
Someone might say, “Well, doesn’t the Bible tell us to be nice?” Nope! Not once. It tells us to be patient and compassionate and kind and loving and generous and even willing to suffer, but not to be nice. I don’t think Jesus was nice. I think He was gracious and giving and happy, but few people would refer to Him as nice. And no one would refer to the Father as nice. Loving, yes. Nice, no.
There are times when we ought to call others on their behavior. There are times when we should speak up and challenge unkind statements or actions. Church and organization leaders and government officials should stop worrying about what others will think and just do the right thing. If to be nice means that we stand by while others are hurt, then being nice is not being good. If being nice means allowing yourself to be used, then being nice is not smart.
Now, I believe there are times to turn the other cheek and go the extra mile. Jesus knew what He was saying. There are also times to call the Pharisees around us “whitewashed tombs” or to point out their hypocrisy. You can choose to let others use you and you can choose when it should stop. You don’t have to be nice.
Narcissists and others depend on a culture of nice to stop any opposition against their abuses. Maybe, in your situation, it’s time to take some of that nice out of your culture. Pray and trust the Lord. Don’t do this lightly. There are risks. Keep yourself safe. Prepare for consequences. Just know that being a doormat is not more spiritual. If you choose to let it continue, that’s fine. But you don’t have to.
So, for the sake of irony, maybe it’s time to stand up to the narcissist and say, “You are not nice!”