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The Inappropriateness of Being Nice

I used to have a saying that I lived by. “It’s nice to be important, but more important to be nice.” For the most part, living by this creed worked well for me. In my personal life, as a missionary in Central America and as a businessperson, I was nice to people and, most of the time, people were nice to me. Being nice was working out for me. That is, until I moved to Washington DC and begin to work for the federal government. There I learned the important lesson that sometimes it is one hundred percent inappropriate to be nice.

The revelation came one day through an issue that I had with one of our government employees. Let’s call her Mary. Mary worked for me. I was a nice boss; always having something nice and encouraging to say to colleagues and staff. I was especially nice to Mary because she worked in my outer office and I saw her all the time. Mary would finish work and then wait two hours for her husband, who worked in another department, in order to go home together. After about a year of this, I learned that Mary had been charging the government for the two hours that she waited for her husband! I confronted Mary regarding this violation I immediately put a stop to it. Mary had taken advantage of my kindness. She associated my niceness with weakness. Later, she made false accusations against me and tried to get me fired! Being the nice boss backfired. In hindsight, I should have treated Mary differently. In that situation, being nice was counterproductive.

There are times when one should not be nice. When a person is being harassed in the workplace, it is not time to be nice. If someone is trying to take advantage of your kindness and then attempting to take you down, it is not time to be nice. Sometimes the appropriate response is to be tough. You have heard of tough love. To help get drug addicts into treatment there is something called an “intervention”. It is not nice. It is tough, direct and honest. Many families have lost loved ones to drugs by continuing to be nice and treating them as if things were normal. In these situations, being nice just doesn’t work!

This brings me to the 2016 Presidential election and the Trump factor. The Republican Party elite had a beautiful plan. They were to bring all the money players together behind one candidate: Jeb Bush. Jeb was ready. He had a powerful resume, financial backing, the best political talent available and the name recognition. What was not anticipated was the entrance of a non-conventional, loud and aggressive candidate named Donald Trump. Jeb was considered the “nice” candidate. Trump, the “mean” one. Almost immediately, Trump began to attract massive groups of followers and supporters. Jeb’s support was stagnant and then dwindled. Donald Trump is now the Republican candidate for President of the United States and it appears that American voters are looking for a leader who is tough and not necessarily nice. They want a leader who will stand up to China on trade issues, confront Russian expansionism, take on Iranian financing of international terrorism, beat ISIS and be tough on illegal immigration. These are key concerns that directly affect the nation’s security and economy and it will take a US President who will be a tough and forceful negotiator. The results of the Republican Primary shows that American voters prefer a leader who is tough to one who is “nice”. Another example of citizens preferring tough over nice is the recent vote by the citizens of the United Kingdom to leave the European Union. Leaving the EU was a tough decision. The new Prime Minister, Theresa May, fired the entire cabinet of her predecessor David Cameron on her first day in office. This was not a “nice” decision. British voters decided that it was a moment to be tough and not nice.

Whether individually or as a nation, there are moments when being nice is an inappropriate and counterproductive action. Each situation must be reviewed and analyzed in order to decide whether it is more appropriate to be tough or nice. People and leaders of nations who understand and develop the ability to incorporate this discernment will be better prepared to face whatever comes their way.

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