Niceness is not a virtue nor a fruit of the Spirit, but we treat it as such in our current cultural climate. Not that this is something new. GK Chesterton and CS Lewis both had much to say about the dangers of the false virtue of niceness decades ago. One of my favorites from Lewis is his novel That Hideous Strength. It’s the third and final novel of his space trilogy, but it easily stands on its own. If you like distopian si-fi, you would probably enjoy That Hideous Strength. In it, Lewis centers the plot around the fictional National Institute for Co-ordinated Experiments: N.I.C.E. We learn rather quickly that something sinister lies beneath the building’s façade of nicety, but everyone’s being too nice, too don’t-rock-the-boat, to notice let alone do anything about it. The “nice” things the company is doing for the community blinds people to the evil the company is plotting behind the scenes. Part of the point Lewis is making here is that nice is not always good.
|That hideous cover.
Today we call the virtue of nicety tolerance. Traditional tolerance is a virtue in which one tolerates something, or responds with civility toward something that one does not like or agree with. (See also Os Guinness on true vs false civility.) Somehow this has morphed into a definition of tolerance in which one must agree with, or accept, everything, where nothing is wrong. The former type of tolerance is kind; the latter is nice. Both pseudo-tolerance and niceness, or pseudo-kindness, are less-than, mere shadows of virtue. And that they resemble virtue, but fail to actually be virtue is what makes niceness so dangerous. To look at it from the other side of the coin, niceness and tolerance aren’t bad by default either, but they need a framework and a telos outside of themselves to be good.
I titled this piece “Nice vs Kind” because kindness is a virtue, a fruit of the Spirit. As we think through Christianity, then, we need to be discerning about the distinction between nice and kind. Here’s where I’d like to kick the question out to you: What is kindness? And how does it differ from niceness? Hit up the comment section; I look forward to seeing where the discussion takes us.
(More articles at www.ThinkingThroughChristianity.com)