“Niceness is a decision”?

Cover of "Predators: Pedophiles, Rapists,...

Cover via Amazon

For “light” reading over the break, I decided to read Anna Salter’s book, Predators, Pedophiles, Rapists, and other Sex Offenders (Basic Books, 2003). I’ve known of this book for some time and viewed her DVDs which cover a chunk of the book’s topic. **I don’t recommend you read this book at night or at all if you have any history of sexual abuse.**

The book reviews research on those who commit these kinds of crimes. What I found most helpful is her treatment of the problem of deception, common techniques, and how both the average person AND expert clinicians are easily seduced by the presentation and lies of offenders. She closes out the book with chapters on detecting deception and protecting children from abusers.

But one particular paragraph caught my eye. The context of what you read below is her discussion of the necessity of a double life (appearances of sincerity, likeability, honest, etc.) in order to gain access to children. As she says, “a surly and obnoxious person would have little access…” (p. 38)

“Niceness is a decision,” writer Gavin De Becker wrote in the The Gift of Fear. It is “a strategy of social interaction; it is not a character train.” There are days I want to tattoo this on my forehead. De Becker is right, but who believes him? (ibid)

Do you agree? Niceness is a decision not a character trait?

Niceness is an action, a behavior. Frankly, any of the fruits of the Spirit may be short-term behaviors as well. I can choose to be gentle or patient for a time. But true fruits come from Holy Spirit induced character change. But what bubbles up in us when no one is looking tells a bit more about who we really are.

We ought to be just a bit more suspicious about ourselves and be wary of the tendency to pat ourselves on the back for being nice–especially if we find ourselves doing calculations on the benefits we might receive for our good behavior.


Filed under Abuse, Christianity, Christianity: Leaders and Leadership, deception, personality, Psychology

7 responses to ““Niceness is a decision”?

  1. Regardless of motives, I think “niceness” is a good habit to cultivate. Should I choose NOT to be nice because it’s “inauthentic”? I think not.

    The point is well taken, though, that just because someone seems “nice,” it doesn’t mean we should necessarily trust them.

  2. Scott Knapp

    Good point that the fruit of the Spirit can be emulated in the short-term, but not authentically demonstrated over the long-haul without decisive internal change. This lends credence to the notion that rarely will one take a long, hard look at the deepest things of the soul that need repenting of, until an extended time in the dry and painful desert of the soul cuts through surface pretense, and brings them to the light and makes them plain.

    • D. Stevenson

      Is it a guy thing or a personality thing? Or maybe it is just the way I look at words.

      Quoting Phil, “But true fruits come from Holy Spirit induced character change.” I say if the source of the fruit isn’t attachment to the vine it isn’t a fruit of the Spirit. As Phil said, “I can choose to be gentle or patient for a time.” That is, I can act that way, put on the charade.

      When I recognize that I am living a charade I might still forget about abiding and race off to “do fruit.” We “do” Christianity. The words “decisive internal change” and “take a long hard look” sound like “do” words to me.

      Perhaps it is just the words. Perhaps it is because I am still lame and with feeble knees that I so easily trip on these words and tumble out of Romans 8 back into Romans 7.

      • Scott Knapp

        “Decisive”…..yeah, confusing choice of wording there, without some expounding. I was thinking more of “decisiveness” on the part of the Holy Spirit, meaning that unless He actively chooses to engage with the soul and spur change (as opposed to our choosing or even indifference), little long-term, effective change. That seems to me to be the demonstrative difference between what I can conjure up on my own, and what He can effect when He chooses.

        As for “take a long, hard look,” I’m still of the opinion that all relationships, including the one with our God, are dynamic, and require activity on both sides to cultivate relational ground that bears fruit. For Paul to need to tell us to “no quench the Spirit” implies there are things we “do” to quench him, and alternately it could be implied that there are things we “do” that better facilitate (but not duplicate) His work in us. Personal reflection, especially in times of soul trouble, is one of my cooperative/facilitative “do’s” in my relationship with the Spirit; often times I need help from other people, and sometimes I’m privileged to be the helper.

  3. Ryan

    If you haven’t already read Gavin’s book, it is worth the read.

  4. D. Stevenson

    How do you define nice? “Nice” in these two sentences, “She is nice” vs. “Be nice.” isn’t the same nice. What is nice, anyway?

    Having read a bit of Gavin De Becker I’d guess that he cautions discretion about being nice. Being nice can sometimes be very foolish and very dangerous.

    Kindness and goodness, on the other hand…

    Kindness or goodness isn’t necessarily nice.

  5. george

    This is a good post. In the Asian context, asians are generally nice and accomodating, however, I have found myself to be inauthentic many times when I am nice. I fail to acknowledge my own needs, desires and even emotions, thus I have periodically ‘exploded in anger’ at others. Such behaviour, sadly, is many times accepted in my society.
    “It’s just one of those days for him,” they will say and excuse me from my usual niceness.

    Just do take note that the culture which I live in is such, and therefore, niceness is really a bad thing for my community. We hide behind the ‘niceness’ not sharing authentically what ails us, or worries us, or angers us.

    Nice timely post. 🙂 Thank you.

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