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The Problem with Being Nice

I sat in an athletic department office (years ago) as a head coach I was working for sketched plans on a white board and explained how each convoluted detail was essential to his basketball program. The coach was young, inexperienced and very eager to have a winning season. I didn’trealize it at the time, but most of his ideas were dead wrong. The glaring problem of the hour’s lecture was the fifty odd years of collective coaching experience in the room: the seasoned coaches sitting in the chairs next to me sat quietly acquiescing to the head coach’s ideas.

The silence of those experienced coaches contributed to a long, miserable, losing season. They knew the head coach was wrong, but no one would speak up.

We were all “yes” men.

Weoftenbehave this same way at work or in our home. We aren’t honest inour relationships. We want to stay on the boss’s good side. We wish to be considerate and never hurt anyone’s feelings. We even pretend that following the Golden Rule is a central part of our religious observance. We order our relationships around being “yes” people because it is the easiest way to live. At church we are taught there is no greater quality than to be “nice” people.

But are we really called to be”nice”?

As I finished writing my next book (September 2012), I was dumbfounded by the number of characters in the Bible who suffer through set-backs and defeat because they are not honest with God, with themselves, or the people around them. Theyeither stumble because they are “yes” men or they are unwilling to hear the truth from the mouths of others.

And then it happened to me.

Ina quest to accomplish something meaningful there is usually at least one dark moment when everything appears hopeless… it is the 20th marathon mile when you hit a wall, 24,000 feet when the oxygen is thin and you just don’t believe you can keep climbing, or the 6th chapter when you question if what you are writing really matters at all…

It hit me late one evening. It was miserable. I was angry and frustrated and the moment almost got the best of me. But someone decided to tell me the truth. My wife listened to my frustration for a while and then looked at me and said:

“I am not sure you really believe what you are writing about.”

It wasn’t a “nice” thing to say. Those were difficult words to hear.

The next day as I sat down to face my manuscript I realized she was right. I had to make a choice about what I was writing. Did I really believe it or not?

The experience made me remember the basketball coach and I wondered about the value and substance of friendships, work associations, and family relationships where the truth is avoided. I have been guilty of being a “yes” man, of sidestepping truth in an effort to be “nice” at work, with friends, and certainly in family relationships.

But honesty has to be at the core of our relationships. Even when it is tough…

We should work to surround ourselves with people who will tell the truth, regardless of whether we want to hear it. We need to be strong enough to listen to the truth (and accept it) when it is spoken into our own lives and share the truth with others when necessary. Truth is the foundation of real relationships, strong friendships, and successful ventures… the great challenge here is of course that sharing the truth is not always the “nice” thing to do.

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