…the parched land shall become a pool, and the thirsty lands springs of water…(Isaiah 35:7)

Being Direct

The Path Away from Niceness Culture

By Rex Goode


There’s this thing these days that people are referring to as “niceness culture” or “a culture of niceness.” Most modern thought about it has to do with the hazards of such a culture in the workplace. As an employer, I see it very clearly.

When it comes to problem-solving, planning, even discipline, it is entirely possible to be too nice. Rather than rework the many articles that have been published about the problems of toxic niceness in companies, I want to address similar questions as it relates to Christianity and the ever-expanding identification with Jesus Christ as a teddy bear god.

Discipleship of this false god involves victimhood, toleration of sin, and the doctrine of eat, drink, and be merry (2 Nephi 28:8). The belief is that because this god is all about love, the deeds we do, no matter how injurious to others, will be forgiven without repentance.

Beyond making the comparisons between faith and business, I also want to propose a pathway out of niceness culture for people of faith. The path I’m talking about does not wander through dark and evil forests of danger. In our zeal to reject niceness culture, we should not adopt meanness culture.

Like all paths to God, the gate is straight and the way is narrow. That Way is the Lord Jesus Christ. He is the only way, the only means of salvation, but our faith must be placed in the real Jesus Christ of scripture and modern revelation.

With full transparency, I confess that my understanding of Jesus Christ comes through the teachings of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints, of which I am a member. As some of my many Christian acquaintances of my nearly seven decades have told me, it’s important that you worship the right Jesus and that we do not.

I am not going to debate that point here as it detracts from my message, which I hope people of all Christian faiths will consider in the context of their own beliefs about Jesus. Just know that Joseph Smith, our founder, agrees with them and taught that it is important to know the true character of God.

So, if you aren’t willing to take advice from someone you consider to not be a true disciple, I bid you farewell from this conversation and I’ll continue on with the more open-minded.

I think that one thing other Christians will concede to me is that Jesus is not a cosmic teddy bear whose entire mission is to spare the entire world, regardless of repentance, from eternal damnation. He has commandments. He has established and defined right from wrong. Those who think he will excuse everything without fruits meet for repentance will find themselves in peril.

Having asserted that, the culture of niceness will not save us and will not save those we love no matter how nice we are to them. We need something better, something rooted in truth. Sometimes that truth is uncomfortable. It should be uncomfortable when we’d prefer to ignore it.

Sometimes, when giving directions, you have to say what not to do. For example, “At the next intersection take a left, not the sharp left, but the 90-degree left.”

In that spirit, I’ll say that niceness culture and meanness culture are shadowy twins that lead to the same destination. What leads to the true direction we should follow is love, the kind of love that tells the truth.

A conversation I recently had centered around the example set by Jesus and John the Baptist when they called the Pharisees and Sadducees a generation of vipers (Matthew 3:7; 12:34). This point was raised to counter my assertion that name-calling is not the way to call out falsehoods.

Admittedly, Jesus and John the Baptist, who was named as the greatest prophet that ever lived by Jesus (Luke 7:26), did resort to name-calling. I want to refute the use of this example as an excuse to indulge in name-calling. It was also Jesus who challenged a mob by telling them that he who is without sin should cast the first stone at the woman taken in adultery. I say that Jesus earned the right to indulge in name-calling and as soon as we are as righteous as Him, we might venture to do the same.

Of course, John the Baptist is not to be equated with the Son of God in that regard, but I think he qualifies way more than I do to resort to such an ineffectual tactic. Don’t believe me about how valueless it is? The Pharisees and Sadducees didn’t repent. He who had the divine right to judge and his chosen servant didn’t just call them to repentance. They condemned them and their behavior.

A few years ago, I heard a story. Don’t know how true it is or where it came from. A young missionary returned home and attended church services with his family. After the meeting, he approached the bishop and complained about how boring the talks were. Rightly, the bishop said something like, “Brother, I am the only Judge in this ward.”

To me, resorting to calling people things like disgusting, liars, losers, and idiots does not lie along the path from niceness culture to true discipleship. In my lifetime, I have been disgusting, a liar, a loser, and frequently a total idiot. I should not stand in the presence of Jesus while he told the woman to go and sin no more and say, “Somebody hand me a rock.”

Latter-day Saints talk about one of the challenges in this life is to try to be like Jesus. I’ve heard someone say, when name-calling, that they are just trying to be like Jesus. I say that what is meant by trying to be like Jesus is to practice justice and mercy in perfect harmony, to obey God, to pursue righteousness, and treat people with dignity.

Frankly, righteous indignation expressed by a string of hurtful and angry labels looks less like Jesus Christ and more like Don Rickles. I’m happy to excuse Don, because comedians expose fallacies through imitation and exaggeration. He was funny. Condemning and name-calling is serious business. Don’t forget that according to Jesus, calling a brother of fool places you in danger of hell fire (Matthew 5:22).

So right about now, you’ll possibly be asking if I’m promoting niceness culture. Heaven forbid. There’s a right way and a wrong way to call to repentance. One leads to confusion, the other to truth.

I relate heavily to articles I read where business experts warn against the dangers of niceness culture in companies. I own a business with a partner. We often see a reluctance to handle the inevitable disciplinary problems with an approach that seeks to not offend. The problem is that while not offending, we often aren’t saying anything useful and we aren’t making any progress towards a solution.

Being heavy-handed doesn’t work either. In our seven years of operation, we have never fired anyone and we haven’t achieved that by beating around the bush or browbeating. When improvement is needed, we directly tell the employee what our expectations are and how they can meet those expectations. There’s no name-calling and there’s no begging.

From our first interview, we start talking and teaching about the difference between aggressiveness, passiveness, and assertiveness. Our entire focus is on encouraging assertiveness. That includes assertiveness with clients, assertiveness with coworkers, and assertiveness with leadership. I even let them be assertive with me. We equate assertiveness with directness.

Say what’s on your mind. When something isn’t being done right, call it out. Model it for your clients. Practice it in your life.

My question, therefore, is, was Jesus direct? There are four gospels full of his directness. I know that in my own life, He has been direct with me and I’ve grown to appreciate it. It has made me better, has sanctified me, and is still sanctifying me.

In my personal communion with him, he has never uttered an unkind word or called me anything other than “my son” or “my friend.” He has told me to repent, shown his disappointment, and has let me know when I’ve kindled His wrath.

I see no problem in calling out bad behavior and dangerous ideas. In standing as witness for God in all times and places, we will inevitably find occasion to be direct and name evil for what it is. Be careful that in naming evil you aren’t being evil.

Finally, consider this. There may be a person that you’ve indicted with every accusation you can muster. How would you feel if God arranged a meeting in his many mysterious ways at a time when their pasts have caught up to them and they are full of regret? What would you do if God spoke to your heart and commanded you to minister to them?

Take the path of truth and love. Those two things have always been companions. You’ll be happy where it leads you.

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