Niceness is Not All it’s Cracked Up to be

Our culture currently promotes being “nice” as the highest virtue a man can achieve.  After all, like the bumper stickers say, “Mean people suck.”  It is easier to drift along with the current of the culture than to try and swim against it.  All the newer “guy” movies inspire males to be lovable, “nice,” slackers, with no aim in life but to smoke pot, bed women, and get by without working as much as possible.  But they are very “nice” so it’s okay.  And young women today seem drawn to soft, passive, quiet men who do not ruffle feathers and who do what they are told.  It’s a nonthreatening, but uninspired vision of manhood.

While on the surface this may seem like a grand virtue, niceness may not serve your son’s best interests in the long run.  In fact, sometimes, I think niceness is the enemy of courage.  Many times in life a man, husband, or father is forced to make decisions in the best interest of his family or society that do not appear to be “nice” on the outside.  I’ve been forced as a father to make decisions that my children perceived at the time as heartless, mean-spirited, or just plain stupid.  But they were always in their best interest in the long run.  If my goal had only been to be nice (or to have been liked), I would have not been able to make the hard decisions that were important to their long-term healthy growth and development.

Niceness and meanness are female concepts.  You seldom see men complaining that another man is mean or not nice.  On the outside that desire for niceness in males would appear to be a noble goal.  However, it’s really a way of neutering masculinity.  Being “nice” takes away the power of a man to lead.  It removes passion, conviction, and courage from a man’s soul.  Nice guys might not always finish last, but they seldom run the race at all.

I recently sat next to two men–one older and one younger than me—who are both very “nice” guys.  We were having a discussion about a recent upheaval at our church.  The older man made the comment, “I really don’t want to know the details behind what is happening because then I will be forced to make a judgment.”  The young man agreed and said he would rather not have to face the problems because then he would be forced to choose a side.  I was shocked and not a little disgusted in their responses.  They’d rather stick their heads in the sand than have to take a stand and be perceived as being judgmental.  They lacked the courage to stand up for what they believe in.  When did judging the value of anything become such a sin in our culture anyway?  Anything except whether a person is nice or mean, I guess.

You cannot be a leader and not have at least some people get mad at you.  In fact you cannot accomplish anything in life without having someone get upset at you.  That’s part of the problem with today’s politicians (besides the media) is that they try to make everyone happy.  They water down their message and policies until they are so inoffensive that they end up accomplishing nothing.  By its very nature, leadership will offend or upset a certain percentage of individuals.  If your son grows up to care too much about what others think of him or whether he inadvertently upsets someone, he will never accomplish anything significant with his life, including raising exceptional children.

But I guess I should not be surprised.  Our culture spends a great amount of energy trying to keep men from using their natural life-giving passions and aggressions.  Combine that with many men’s natural hesitancy to face confrontation and you have an entire gender that sits on the sidelines with their hands in pocket and head downcast, avoiding any kind of unpleasantness.  Of course unpleasantness is a fact of life.  Men who do not have courage cannot (or will not) stand up for what is right.  And so for instance when these men have teenage daughters who rebel in an effort to test their father’s love for them, they choose instead to acquiesce and allow their daughters to make life-destroying choices.  Part of that is because our culture teaches us that men are not needed any longer—especially if they are not nice.

The truth is men are still needed to protect women and children from the dangers of the world.  Gender politics aside, boys instinctively know that part of their roles as men will be to protect and provide for their families, despite what our misguided culture may tell them.

It’s not that being nice is bad.  Men should be nice, polite, compassionate, empathetic, and understanding as often as possible.  But when men are only nice, they live shallow, frustrating, and unfulfilling lives—as do those around them.  To accomplish anything of significance in life requires us to offend at least some people.  Men who are only nice are not willing to offend anyone—they never take a stand.  A man can have many attributes that can make him successful in life. But if “niceness” is the most dominant character trait he has, he is probably not someone who can be depended upon to be a strong leader.

I know several very nice young men who are struggling with issues like lust, faith, relationships, careers, and a variety of other issues.  We talk about them and I give them some strategies and new perspectives on how to deal with these issues, but the truth is that all men deal with these struggles.  I think at some point it becomes a matter of courage (or lack thereof).  Are you struggling with lust?  Well welcome to the club—all men struggle with lust.  Don’t mope around about it.  Get some stones and deal with it.  Good men struggle with sin and vice just as much as bad men—they just have the courage to deal with it in a productive manner.  Don’t sit around analyzing it to death.  Lack of courage causes us to become paralyzed and not take action in order to solve problems.  I tell these young men to stiffen their spine.  There are three billion men on the planet and almost all of them deal with the same issues, especially lust.  Some deal with it productively because they love their wives and children; others deal with it by engaging in prostitution, viewing pornography, or having affairs.  Which kind of man do you want your son to be?


This is an excerpt from a upcoming book by Rick Johnson on Making Men.  You can find out more at

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