Be kind. Be good. But please don’t be nice! If you strive to be seen as a nice guy or girl, you might want to think again. In this post, we’ll examine why trying to act nicely all the time may not be as nice as you think. And some of the reasons may surprise you!
I recently had the privilege of interviewing one of my heroes, Paul Coughlin (pronounced COCK-LIN). He’s the founder of The Protectors, an organization dedicated to eliminating bullying and instilling courage, character, and leadership. However, I know Paul best from his book No More Christian Nice Guy. Paul’s book introduced me to the problems of being nice. It also showed me why striving to be clear, kind, and good is far better.
Recovering Nice Guys
I’ve got a confession to make. I’m a recovering CNG or Christian Nice Guy. I grew up in the church. For me, this is more than a cliche’. When I was born, my dad was a youth pastor, so when I say, “I grew up in the church,” I mean, I literally spent so much time at church that I learned to walk in the sanctuary.
I attended Sunday School every week, where I heard plenty of stories about Jesus acting sweet and nice. Likely, this is where my Christian Nice Guy Syndrome began. During our interview, Paul talked about the NGB, or Nice Guy Bible. No, this book doesn’t actually exist. At least there are no physical copies. But it is a book that many Christian leaders teach from, and it’s a book I learned from.
Making Jesus Nice
In 1820, Thomas Jefferson completed his book The Life and Morals of Jesus of Nazareth. Eventually, this would be called The Jefferson Bible. The Jefferson Bible was written by cutting and pasting various passages of Scripture into a new Bible. Jefferson condensed Jesus’ miracles, eliminated supernatural works (including the resurrection), and eliminated passages portraying Christ as divine.
The Jefferson Bible takes less faith to read because it is nice. When I picture Jefferson, holding a razor and painstakingly cutting and gluing Scripture, my first thought is Wow, that is a lot of work! My second thought is, Why would anyone work so hard to distort reality?
GNC’s perform similar gymnastics with their Bible—only there is a slight twist. These men are far too polite to actually take a razor to the Word of God. So instead, they zero-in on favorite passages. These are usually Scriptures where Christ is acting sweet, gentle, and unassuming. Nice guys quickly gloss over passages where Christ is firm, confrontational, and sarcastic—thus cutting these passages out of their minds.
Every verse of Scripture is there for a reason, and GNC’s overlook this important fact. It’s important to understand that Christ’s more rugged qualities are equally as important. We’ll come back to this concept later in this post.
The Problem with Nice
During our interview, Paul did a deep-dive into the problem with nice. He said things like:
- Niceness is often fear in disguise.
- Nice is not listed as a fruit of the spirit, a quality of the Trinity, or a virtue Christ-followers commanded to emulate.
- Acting nicely is often reactive. It can lead to a diminishment of personal agency and is usually a knee-jerk reaction.
Then, Paul hit the heart of the issue. “If we only focus on the sweet stuff in Scripture, we’ll get spiritual cavities.” How true! Jefferson created his Bible with a razor and glue. Christian Nice Guys create theirs by turning their attention to the sweet stuff and glossing over passages they don’t like.
I wonder if this is what the Apostle Paul meant when he chided the Corinthians with the words, “I fed you milk, not solid food, for you were not yet ready. In fact, you are still not ready,” in 1 Corinthian’s 12:2.
In Seminary, one of my favorite Bible teachers warned of the dangers of creating a one-verse theology. Scripture must be interpreted in light of other Scripture. By turning their attention to the sweet stuff, Christian Nice Guys create a theology that aligns with their docile worldview. But they also miss out on important values that God wants believers to know, understand, and integrate into their lives.
The Niceness Worldview
Nice guys and gals create a worldview of niceness. Essentially, this internalized belief states, If I am sweet and gentle enough, then the world will work in my favor. Nice men and women have one primary tool in their relational toolbox—niceness. And when this doesn’t result in them getting their way, they turn the intensity up.
Do you see the problem here? You’ve probably heard insanity describe as doing the same thing, over and over again, while expecting different results. Nice men and women live out the definition of insanity every day.
The Problem with Nice
Perhaps you’ve heard phrases like:
- Nice guys finish last.
- Nice girls don’t get the corner office… don’t get rich… just don’t get it.
Noel Clark said,
I’m a nice guy to anyone I meet, until they show me they don’t deserve niceness. I’ll turn very quickly. But I’m pretty pleasant overall.– Noel Clark
Hidden in this quote is the problem with niceness. You see, nice is not really nice at all. Nice guys and girls have hidden motives. They create a secret scoring system that they determine. Nice people give to get. Instead of being strait-forward and assertively asking for what they desire, nice men and women create secret pacts.
- Nice guys act nicely in order to get closeness, connection, and sex.
- Similarly, nice girls behave nicely in order to make money and move up in their job.
- Nice kids behave in order to stay out of trouble, make friends, and be good boys and girls.
But wait a minute, you may think. What’s wrong with this?
Chance are, if you have a nice guy or girl in your life, you already know because you have experienced it.
A Better Way
“Clear is kind.” This is one of my favorite quotes by Brene Brown. Nice men and women, however, are not clear. They are just the opposite. Nice people often have ulterior motives, and this is a recipe for problems. Personally, I abhor secret pacts. How can I give you what you want, or say “Yes” to your request if I don’t even know what you ask?
Giving to get is nothing more than a socially acceptable guilt trip. If you’re nice to me, I want it to be because you genuinely enjoy spending time together. If there is something you want or need, then ask. I genuinely care about others, and I’ll help when I can. I also appreciate the opportunity to say “No,” and to decline.
In other words, please, don’t smother me with niceness and then expect that I return a favor of your choosing. That’s sneaky and rude!
Clear is kind. If there is some way I can help, just let me know. When I am able to give freely, I will. If I need compensation for my time, I’ll let you know. When I’d like your help in return, and we can create a win-win trade, then we can dive into that conversation. Nice men and women cut negotiation and the feelings of others out of the process. They create their own scoring system, give a certain amount of their niceness, and decide what they should receive for their generosity.
Do you see the problem here? The truth is, nice is not really nice at all.
When Nice Turns Sour
When nice guys and gals don’t receive what they want (or what they deem is fair) the relationship quickly turns sour. In the words of Noel Clark, “I’m a nice guy to anyone I meet, until they show me they don’t deserve niceness. I’ll turn very quickly.” And nearly all nice guys and gals do eventually turn.
Nice people determine when someone no longer deserves niceness. Then they covertly attack. This is scary. And, of course, sneak attacks are never kind.
When nice men and women turn and attack they:
- Turn up the guilt trip
- Gossip behind your back
- Become passive-aggressive
- Really let you have it in “nice” underhanded ways
Most people would rather have an outright nemesis than a hidden foe. Especially a foe who is nice to their face but vicious when they are not around.
The Opposite of Nice
Fortunately, the opposite of nice is not being a jerk.
During my interview with Paul, this amazing author shared how his No More Christian Nice Guy book began. It started with his discovery of Jesus’ humor. According to Paul, many people say, “Jesus is the best teacher of all time,” but they don’t really allow Him to be that teacher. They refuse to recognize Jesus’ use of humor, hyperbole, and blessed sarcasm.
In so doing, these people reduce Jesus to sweet and nice.
But Jesus’ humor wasn’t without cause. It was divine, purposeful, and redemptive. Yet, nice guys don’t use sarcasm.
This led Paul into delving into other passages of Scripture where Jesus was kind and good, but not necessarily nice. Times like when,
- Christ made a whip and cleared the money changers out of the temple. This wasn’t just a fit of rage. It was premeditated and well though-out anger. Sometimes kind and good means being willing to confront.
- Jesus ate with tax collects and sinners. Kind and good people and not concerned with upholding a nice-guy image.
- Christ healed people on the Sabbath. Of course, this upset the religious leaders. Jesus stuck to his purpose, even when it upset others. Kind men and women will follow this example.
In C.S. Lewis’ famous series The Chronicles of Narnia, Lewis describes the Lion, Aslan, the Christ figure, with the following line. “‘Course he isn’t safe. But he’s good. He’s the King, I tell you.”
Christ isn’t safe. He isn’t nice, or always sweet. But He is kind and good. And so are His followers!
Niceness in Marriage
Author John Eldredge states,
I wasn’t mean; (and) I wasn’t evil. I was nice. And let me tell you, a hesitant man is the last thing in the world a woman needs. She needs a lover and a warrior, not a Really Nice Guy.John Eldredge
Nice people are hesitant. Kind and good people act with purpose. At times, kindness and niceness will appear very similar. The difference is that a kind guy will stick to his values even when it upsets others. Kind guys are willing to be both a lover and a warrior. Nice is timid. Kind is also bold and brave.
The Difference Between Kind and Nice
Kind and nice couples will both connect. However, nice couples will avoid talking about tough issues. They will only connect about topics that don’t lead to conflict. Kind couples will dive into conversations that feel good and the important issues that need to be addressed.
Nice couples and kind couples both get frustrated. Nice couples keep smiling and express their anger passive-aggressively. Kind couples are clear about their likes and dislikes. They let their wants, needs, and frustrations be known. Even though this may not feel good at the moment, ultimately, clear is kind.
Nice couples and kind couples both have needs. Nice couples create covert contracts and give to get. Kind couples ask. They make their needs known and are even willing to advocate for themselves. After all, your loved one can’t say “Yes” if you don’t ask. And likely the worst he or she will say in “No.”
Both nice and kind couples disagree. Nice couples enter into a cold gridlock. Kind couples continue dialoguing about problems. Ongoing conversations are powerful. As we will see, kind, ongoing discussions also increase happiness in couples.
So what are the results? Interestingly enough, relationship researcher John Gottman found that bickering passionate couples were the only ones to still have a romantic marriage after 35 years together. Perhaps there really is something to making one’s wants, desires, and needs known!
Nice or Kind, Which are You?
So which are you? Do you lean toward being nice or being kind? As you can see, the difference matters! Paul is right. There is a problem with nice. So be kind. Be good. But whatever you do, please don’t be nice!
Would you like to dive deeper? If so, then you may want to check out the following resources:
- No More Christian Nice Guy. This is an excellent resource, especially for guys. It’s also the book that started my kindness journey.
- No More Christian Nice Girl. In this book for women, Paul teams up with Jennifer Delger.
- No More Mr. Nice Guy. Robert Glover is also an expert on helping men move toward becoming courageous and kind.
- Kind or Nice, Which Are You? Hint, the differences matter!
- Good vs. Nice–Which Are You?
To dive even deeper, be sure to check out my interview with Paul on The Thriving at Home Virtual Summit!
Here’s what one attendee had to say about the entire summit experience:
I highly recommend the “The Thriving at Home Virtual Summit“. I’m only about two-thirds of the way through all the teaching and I’m very impressed with the quality of information contained in it. I can’t believe I got this for only $47. I would expect to pay five or 10 times the price for a quality marriage conference or good marriage conference videos. The variety of teachers and the quality of teaching is very impressive. There are so many good resources and tips in the videos. It’s especially helpful in this time when families are closer together and stepping on each other’s toes. I would say run don’t walk, to get this high-quality program. It can change your life.”Rob
You can get access to our full summit—that’s 19 amazing speakers diving into the topics of thriving relationships, thriving kids, a thriving you, and thriving faith—right here: Yes, I want the Thriving at Home Summit all-access pass!
Another great resource for anyone wanting to break out of a pattern of niceness and move to being clear, kind, and good is to dive into personalized coaching. This always begins with a free call so you can get a taste of the coaching experience and see if it’s right for you. Find out more about personalized coaching here.
More Highlights on Transforming From Nice to Good
Here are few more of my favorite takeaways from my conversation with Paul.
- Niceness (seen in quietness) is often fear in disguise. These men are often victims of their last conversation. They take on the beliefs of what they last heard as opposed to having their own mind. And this simply isn’t attractive to women.
- In addition to the gentle qualities, we also need the tough ones. These are things like courage and fortitude. These might be described as “The vegetables of the spirit.”
- Integrity is about wholeness and balance. People with integrity are tough when they need to be tough and gentle when they need to be gentle.
- Without courage, you can’t be kind consistently.
- Aggressive people can be truthful, but they are not gracious. This is a lot like performing surgery without anesthesia. It gets the job done but creates unnecessary suffering. No, thank you—I’ll pass!
- Passive people are gracious, but they are often not truthful. In fact, they not truthful with others or with themselves.
- Those who are kind and good seek to be both truthful and gracious. They speak the truth in love.
- Growth begins with awareness. Acting nice instead of good usually happens because we are afraid of the disapproval of another person. Understand we can disagree and maintain the dignity of another person at the same time.
- God wants us fully alive. Not in a self-made jail cell that’s locked from the inside. Nice guys and girls have the key to get out.
- Face your fears. Get in touch with your courage by doing the tough thing, afraid. And start early, because people are more courageous in the morning!
- Nice guys and girls need to know that people who are “almost a psychopath” exist. You may not be interested in them, but they are interested in you. They can tell you are malleable, want something from you, and are probably getting it. It’s important to be aware that evil is out there.
I love Paul’s heart for being kind and compassionate while also courageously standing against evil. Edmund Burke said, “The only thing necessary for the triumph of evil is for good men to do nothing.” So don’t be naive. And don’t be overly nice. Strive to be courageous, kind, and good instead!
Continuing the Conversation on Kind, Clear, and Good vs. Overly Nice
So what do you think? You can use the conversation starters below to dive deeper with your loved one or continue to the conversation in the comments below.
- Do you agree that kind, clear, and good is far better than being nice? Why or why not?
- Which are you? While this issue isn’t black-or-white which way do you lean?
- Are you taking any specific actions to move toward becoming increasingly kind, clear, and good? If so, what are they?
- Has niceness hurt a close relationship? If so, how?
- What do you think of Brene Brown’s quote, “Clear is kind,” and why?
- Do you agree with John’s statement that “a hesitant man is the last thing in the world a woman needs. She needs a lover and a warrior, not a Really Nice Guy.” Why or why not?
For more great conversation starters, be sure to check out:
- Conversation Starters about Money, Finances, and Saving
- Questions to Ask: 71 Conversations to Help Your Relationship Grow
- 131 Creative Conversations for Couples
Then, be kind, be clear, and share the real you!