Episode 407 of “The Art of Manliness” podcast, titled “How to Overcome Nice Guy Syndrome”, was recently released. In this episode, Brett McKay (founder of www.artofmanliness.com) interviewed Dr Aziz Gazipura. Aziz is a psychologist, the founder of the Social Confidence Centre, and the author of the new book “not nice”.
The idea of Dr Gazipura’s book is that “niceness”, by common definition, is a character flaw rather than a positive trait and is holding a lot of men back from success.
I must admit that I went into the podcast quite sceptical. However, as I listened to it, I realised that not only is Dr Gazipura probably right but that he makes a lot of points which are directly applicable to Christians.
There are a few different facets to “niceness”. Dictionary.com defines “nice” as:
“Pleasing, agreeable, delightful.”
And “agreeable” as:
“To one’s liking.”
Right off the bat, we should understand that that isn’t what Christianity is. The doctrine that you are born in sin, undeserving of life, deserving of Hell, and God came to die for you, bearing the burden of your sin, and now demands your obedience – that teaching isn’t agreeable, nor do most people like it.
However, the Oxford English Dictionary defines “nice” as:
“Giving pleasure or satisfaction; pleasant or attractive.
This describes Christianity rather well. So, we have a problem.
Dr Gazipura’s definition
Aziz gives a definition of “nice” that I rather like. He says that niceness is a specific pattern rooted in fear. It is, at its core, an inability to tolerate upsetting people. It’s not wanting to bother or irritate people. Limiting your expression of your views in order to ensure that things go smoothly. Putting others ‘ahead’ of yourself, simply because you benefit from that – putting yourself first by putting others first. It is people-pleasing because “I can’t tolerate you being upset”.
So, should I be a jerk?
Not at all. Dr Gazipura claims that niceness is not the same thing as kindness, compassion, or goodness. It could be argued that the opposite of “nice” is “assertive”.
Let me tell you a story. A Muslim woman came into work. Lovely lady, but she said to me, “at the end of the day which god you worship doesn’t matter, so long as you’re a good person.”
Rather than say, “well, actually, the Bible says that no one is good and that our own righteousness is worthless before the Lord. The Bible says that, regardless of whether or not it makes us ‘better’ people, if Christ is not raised (and you claim that He is not) then our religion is entirely worthless,” I simply said, “yeah, sure!”
I have never seen this woman again. I had an opportunity to tell her about the living God, the true God, and make known to her the way of salvation.
Yet I sold her souls that I might avoid an uncomfortable situation. I valued my own comfort, through her own comfort, higher than I valued her salvation.
Why? Because I was nice.
Strong and nice aren’t compatible.
A strong Christian is someone who sticks to their beliefs. They are educated in their faith, and they do not give ground to false teaching. Naturally, strong Christianity is not welcome in most places. A man sticks to his guns and affirms against homosexual activity? They aren’t welcome in polite society. A woman follows her conviction and dresses in modest swimwear to the beach? She’s laughed at, even by her friends. A couple abstains from sex until their wedding day? They’re treated as complete weirdos.
But there’s another aspect to it. There’s a story about Billy Graham that I believe explains this well. Quoted from backtothebible.org:
A well-known professional golfer was playing in a tournament with then-president Gerald Ford, fellow pro-Jack Nicklaus and Billy Graham. After the round was over, one of the other pros on the tour asked, “Hey, what was it like playing with the president and Billy Graham?” The pro said with disgust, “I don’t need Billy Graham stuffing religion down my throat!” With that, he headed for the practice tee. His friend followed, and after the golfer had pounded out his fury on a bucket of golf balls, he asked, “Was Billy a little rough on you out there?” The pro sighed and said with embarrassment, “No, he didn’t even mention religion.”
Billy Graham was well known for his religious beliefs. His presence on the golf course reminded others about this, and they felt the weight of their conviction in his presence. Likewise, Christians are like a light in the darkness of the world. The world sees us as we reflect Jesus, and they then see themselves not in the darkness to which they’re accustomed, but in the reflected light of Christ. The mere presence of a Christian has the uncanny ability to convict people of their own sin; people tend to swear less around Christians, for example.
The whole idea behind being a “nice” Christian is that, if you dull that light so that the unbelievers around you don’t become uncomfortable, then you’re somehow doing something well. In fact, there’s a cultural narrative that is we can be of as little offence to unbelievers as possible, they might begin to open up to the idea of God.
Conversely, the idea behind being a strong Christian is letting that reflected light of Christ shine, no matter how uncomfortable it makes you, no matter how many people try to dim that light. That light is the light of the Lord Jesus Christ, and it is your job and your duty to shine it forth into the darkness.
Obviously, these two positions are far from compatible.
What, then, should I do?
The best answers are often the most obvious answers. We like to pretend that they aren’t obvious because they’re also often the hardest answers. Quite simply, stop allowing people to dim the light.
Jesus said that nobody lights a lamp and puts it under a basket. However, that’s the entire idea behind “nice Christianity,” and “niceness evangelism”. Rather, when Christ has lit a lamp in you, you must let it shine forth. You may not like how bright it is in contrast to the darkness. You may not like the way the people who are accustomed to the darkness glare and shout. But the best way to get used to it is to brace yourself and shine, shine, shine it forth.
When someone claims that everyone goes to heaven, regardless of their religion, don’t agree to keep the peace. But don’t scream “heretic” either. Simply say, “huh, you believe that? Ok, well I see it differently; you see…” be firm. Stand strong. But don’t be a jerk; your motivation here ought to be love, and the good of this person with whom you are talking.
At the same time, try to re-educate yourself on what love is. Look to Christ; He loved us like nobody has ever loved us before, but He made us incredibly uncomfortable in the process. Look to Him, and understand that comfort and good are not synonyms.
Finally, pray. Prayer works because God is sovereign. God is also zealous for His glory, and if you ask that He will help you to stand firm for Christ then I don’t see why He would reject that. And be persistent in prayer.
Often, we can be nice or loving. The culture tells us differently, though. We are in dire need of a generation of Christians who would rather be loving than be loved, firm than affirmed, and strong rather than comfortable. The road ahead is hard, but the destination will make it worthwhile.
Brothers and sisters, don’t be nice; be loving, kind, and firm. Be willing to endure discomfort for the sake of the gospel, the sake of the lost, and the sake of Christ.
Soli Deo Gloria.