Years ago I worked alongside a difficult co-worker. This young man seldom had anything good to say to anybody.
He was affable when he wanted to be. But he often interacted with people using sarcasm or putdowns. His favorite salutation, one used co-workers and even sometimes customers, was, “How’s Dummy today?”
For the first while I found myself giving this man the benefit of the doubt. His behavior irked me, yes. But I constantly dismissed his actions, explained them away, or swept them under my emotional rug.
I said to myself, “Oh, he’s only this way because his marriage is difficult.” Or, “He’s only being a jerk because he woke up the wrong side of the bed this morning.”
I tried to answer kindly when he offered insults. A lot of people did. But time went on, and the man didn’t change. At least not as far as I could tell.
Today I look back and wonder if that sort of response to the man actually backfired. We were all so nice to him. Yet that’s the total of all we were … nice. And that method of dealing with the man enabled him to continue his negative course, unchecked.
The kindness itself was not intrinsically wrong. Our gentle responses weren’t evil. But I know now that I erred in overlooking one extremely important response in dealing with this man …
Truth was that this man’s actions were wide of the mark. He was unprofessional, demeaning, and unkind. And he needed to be fired. That was the truth.
Did I ever once, when insulted, say something to the man as straightforward as,
“You know, friend … what you just said is the most absurd thing I’ve ever heard,”
and just let lie the awkwardness that might have resulted?
Those of us who come from Judeo-Christian backgrounds tend to see our faith as a consistent directive to be nice to everybody, all the time.
But not even Jesus was always nice. Not in the sense of the word that means overly-accommodating.
To their faces, Jesus called his day’s hypocrites “white-washed tombs.” Meaning—they were people who looked good on the outside, but inside were full of death.
Once Jesus called Simon Peter, one of his closest friends, “Satan,” and told Peter to get out of the way and get behind him. Peter was longing for riches and fame, not justice and reconciliation, the true things of God.
Yes, there’s a huge place in this world for niceness, for kindness and gentleness, for giving people soft answers, and for turning away wrath. We can always use more Mr. Nice Guys.
But there’s also a huge place in this world for speaking the truth—speaking it as lovingly, barefaced, professionally, and boldly as you dare.
If something is absurd, call it absurd.
If something is wrong, call it wrong. Maybe only to yourself. Maybe to a person who needs to be confronted.
Even Jesus did.
Buy it, enjoy it, pass it along.