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Why Niceness Weakens Our Witness


Calm

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6 hours ago, bluebell said:

We’ll have to agree to disagree on whether or not dictionaries exist.

Didn't say dictionaries don't exist, I said that words don't have definitions. We create definitions and we assert them for words, but neither dictionaries nor their definitions adjudicate meaning. Definitions are exercises in prescription, which is about structuring power, not about how people naturally communicate or about how we create meaning from words. 

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4 hours ago, Dan McClellan said:

Didn't say dictionaries don't exist, I said that words don't have definitions. We create definitions and we assert them for words, but neither dictionaries nor their definitions adjudicate meaning. Definitions are exercises in prescription, which is about structuring power, not about how people naturally communicate or about how we create meaning from words. 

Thanks.

As you well know, the Word creates worlds without number.  And that takes power.

Edited by mfbukowski
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10 hours ago, OGHoosier said:

Never has a generation been able to hop so quickly between challenge and recreation. Most of our work is on computers. Most of our recreation is too, and the boundary between the rigorous and the relaxing is only ever as much as a Chrome tab. Our favorite media (Instagram, Twitter, and TikTok) are optimized for brief visual engagement. If you want to get something done with Gen Z (as a generalized stereotype, of course, but not without descriptive merit) you HAVE to be engaging and attention-grabbing. I find that the younger generation does place more of a premium on confrontation as well. "Get rekt", "roasted", and "they got ratio'd" are common refrains. There's definitely a attitude of aggression - youthful aggression, but its there. In my experience Gen Z comes not to bring peace, but a sword. Some might call it regressive. I'm inclined to agree, but I'm not normal. I have none of the aforementioned three social medias and grew up obsessed with old statesmanship and civics, which has led many of my own friends to call me a Boomer in a Zoomer's body. Also, that particular generation gap cannot be emphasized enough.

(Rubbing hands together) Vhich makes of you a goot candydate to be a double agent.....  hmmmm......  I must pondare dis intedestink  idea.....   🤨

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12 hours ago, Dan McClellan said:

The statement is that Jesus "was not nice." I disagree with this statement. Yeah, we could carefully split a whole pile of hairs to come up with a way that "nice" can be interpreted to refer to something that arguably doesn't characterize every single thing Jesus did, but at that point, what is the value of the statement? The statement was a silly rhetorical flourish that I don't think helps anything. 

I firmly disagree.  Jesus was not "nice." He was compassionate.  And this is an important distinction.  Compassion emanates from character.  It is deep and abiding. 

Being "nice" is a superficial social custom

The Apostle Paul wasn't "nice."  When he thought Peter was in theological error, her firmly corrected him publicly. "Nice" would tell us that Paul should have waited to meet Paul in person.  Pull him aside privately, and correct him gently.  But this would be ineffective.  Paul was bold.  Paul was note nice.

I believe what this author is getting at is that we should be bold in our convictions and in how we discuss them with others. 

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4 hours ago, Ipod Touch said:

Jesus was not "nice." He was compassionate.  And this is an important distinction.  Compassion emanates from character.  It is deep and abiding. 

Being "nice" is a superficial social custom

I think this is an important point, and I don't disagree, but my long experience on this board (and a different one before that) has taught me that, many times when people insist on our being 'nice' -- and it's companion: accuse us of being mean and unChristlike -- they're actually demanding that we validate them and/or their choices.

For example, I've had numerous apostates demand that I agree that their decision to leave the Church, violate covenants, and sometimes even break their families apart is 'equally valid' with the decision to remain in the Church and honour covenants with both God and spouse. Disagreeing often results in some kind of attempted guilt trip centring on how mean we are to those who leave, driving them to need professional exit counselling (Mr Dehlin's specialty, of course!), or even pushing them to the point of self-harm, etc. It's all textbook emotional blackmail.

And as a slightly different example, just this year, a faithful and devout member of another church has shown up a few times on this board to passively-aggressively insist that we all agree that he has no need for the Restoration, and when we very nicely point out that we don't actually accept that proposition, he has thrown tantrums and levelled all kinds of ugly accusations against us, including that we are 'exclusive', insulting, unChristlike, etc.

So I don't even think we're dealing with actual niceness here, however defined. We can be nice and decent and compassionate and polite and self-deprecating all we want; it will never be enough for people who simply cannot tolerate that we genuinely and deeply believe that they're wrong or who have a deep-seated need for us to capitulate on our beliefs.

Edited by Hamba Tuhan
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4 hours ago, Ipod Touch said:

I firmly disagree.  Jesus was not "nice." He was compassionate.  And this is an important distinction.  Compassion emanates from character.  It is deep and abiding. 

Being "nice" is a superficial social custom

The Apostle Paul wasn't "nice."  When he thought Peter was in theological error, her firmly corrected him publicly. "Nice" would tell us that Paul should have waited to meet Paul in person.  Pull him aside privately, and correct him gently.  But this would be ineffective.  Paul was bold.  Paul was note nice.

I believe what this author is getting at is that we should be bold in our convictions and in how we discuss them with others. 

I agree that's what the author was trying to achieve, but saying Jesus was "kind" but not "nice" is a silly semantic puppet show. The whole book is built on constructing a specific conceptualization of a very specific kind of "niceness," though.

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5 hours ago, mfbukowski said:

Thanks.

As you well know, the Word creates worlds without number.  And that takes power.

I would say that is power that is inherent, not power that must be structured socially.

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11 hours ago, Dan McClellan said:

Didn't say dictionaries don't exist, I said that words don't have definitions. We create definitions and we assert them for words, but neither dictionaries nor their definitions adjudicate meaning. Definitions are exercises in prescription, which is about structuring power, not about how people naturally communicate or about how we create meaning from words. 

Can you explain how people naturally communicate without a common definition (understanding, unless there's a difference there) of the symbols used in the media of expression?

Edited by CV75
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38 minutes ago, CV75 said:

Can you explain how people naturally communicate without a common definition (understanding, unless there's a difference there) of the symbols used in the media of expression?

Yes, there is an enormous difference between "definition" and "understanding." A definition is a set of necessary and sufficient features that distinguish a concept from all others, but using that framework of necessary and sufficient features for establishing meaning is artificial, distorting, and modern. You know the words "game" and "furniture" without ever looking them up, and even if you did look them up, the definitions you would find (they differ wildly based on what dictionary you check) would never really influence in the slightest the way you use or interpret the word. They're also not incredibly useful, since we don't form our understanding of the things those words can mean based on necessary and sufficient features. We form our understanding based on our experiences with their usage and by the perception of similarity to that usage. The assumption that the practice of definition aligns with the way words mean and the way we interpret them is simply false. It is a distorting and prescriptive linguistic framework. A good discussion of this problem is here: https://www.amazon.com/Linguistic-Categorization-Oxford-Textbooks-Linguistics-dp-0199266646/dp/0199266646/ref=dp_ob_title_bk

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2 hours ago, Dan McClellan said:

I agree that's what the author was trying to achieve, but saying Jesus was "kind" but not "nice" is a silly semantic puppet show. The whole book is built on constructing a specific conceptualization of a very specific kind of "niceness," though.

I do think there can be differences in meaning between kind and nice. Nice is more like being pleasant or polite. Kind is more about valuing other in our treatment of them. In that respect I generally agree with the excerpt in Calm's OP, and I think it applies not just to Christianity but in any principled context. 

That said, politeness, niceness, and civility should be the default. It is a communication of the intent and goal to be kind, to treat others as human beings too. When we get bold and sense that we are going to offend, it's probably good to reconsider a few times, and kindness should still be the standard even then.

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7 hours ago, Ipod Touch said:

I firmly disagree.  Jesus was not "nice." [...]

Being "nice" is a superficial social custom

That's one definition of the word "nice," but it isn't the only one.

When someone uses the word "nice" they might very well mean to say that someone is polite (i.e., someone who ardently adheres to the social customs you are referring to). Or, they might mean to say that someone is kind. The word "nice" encompasses both definitions. 

So, when someone says that Jesus was not "nice," (where the word "nice" is only to be construed in a very narrow, specific sort of way) that's not a very helpful description.

And this is why I think it's really gimmicky: because when someone like the author of the article in the OP says, "Jesus was not nice" they are just trying to get a rise out of you. They're trying to make it sound like they are saying something controversial because they want to get your attention (and your clicks). 

Because there is a difference between saying, "Jesus was not nice" and "Jesus was not 'nice'." 

The former is click-bait because we have words to describe someone who is "not nice," (e.g., mean, disagreeable, unfriendly, etc.), and that's just not Jesus. 

It would be sort of like writing an article titled "Jesus Was Engaged," only by "engaged" you really only mean 'busy, involved, etc.' and not 'pledged to be married.'

Ha ha, very clever. But you aren't really saying anything I don't already know. 

But I guess "Jesus was not nice" generates more clicks than "For I am not ashamed of the gospel of Christ," and writers have got to make a living too I suppose.

 

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I'm late to this party, but I DO like to differentiate between "nice" and "kind"  in the following way - 

 

I hear the word "nice" as a four letter word - it's milquetoast, it's without boundaries, it's manipulative and pleasing.  Its the absence of self and it's the root of much depression.  It robs partnership and is false.

Kind is boundaried.  It's authentic.  It's trusting others.  It's trusting the self.  It's healthy and it's loving others in the truest sense.  I'm not always kind but when I am I feel it, and so do others.  

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13 hours ago, Dan McClellan said:

Didn't say dictionaries don't exist, I said that words don't have definitions. We create definitions and we assert them for words, but neither dictionaries nor their definitions adjudicate meaning. Definitions are exercises in prescription, which is about structuring power, not about how people naturally communicate or about how we create meaning from words. 

I hear you and understand what you are saying.  But like I said previously, we'll have to agree to disagree on whether or not the esoteric idea of words not having definitions serves any actual purpose when discussing a blog the author meant for the masses.  I just don't think that your take on that is relevant to the conversation.  

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28 minutes ago, MustardSeed said:

I'm late to this party, but I DO like to differentiate between "nice" and "kind"  in the following way - 

 

I hear the word "nice" as a four letter word - it's milquetoast, it's without boundaries, it's manipulative and pleasing.  Its the absence of self and it's the root of much depression.  It robs partnership and is false.

Kind is boundaried.  It's authentic.  It's trusting others.  It's trusting the self.  It's healthy and it's loving others in the truest sense.  I'm not always kind but when I am I feel it, and so do others.  

That's a great way to explain it.

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Gently I would add that girls have extra pressure in the world to be "nice" as I described earlier.  I reject this notion, but I am but one.  It's not always apparent to others when a woman is being nice.  She has been trained her whole life to suppress her self for the benefit of others so that she will be likable.  

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24 minutes ago, bluebell said:

I hear you and understand what you are saying.  But like I said previously, we'll have to agree to disagree on whether or not the esoteric idea of words not having definitions serves any actual purpose when discussing a blog the author meant for the masses.  I just don't think that your take on that is relevant to the conversation.  

It's not an esoteric idea, it's scientific fact. The purpose it serves is to point out that asserting semantic boundaries around words is a rhetorical exercise, not an analytical one. Very few words develop or are used with reference to semantic boundaries. Dictionaries exist in order to give a rough outline as a starting point for people who don't understand a word. They do not adjudicate meaning, they are not thorough or comprehensive, and the underlying conceptual substructure is often distorting. "The masses" do not use dictionary definitions to communicate, they use the same cognitive processes that all humans use. In light of that, to say "Jesus was kind, but he was not nice" is a rhetorical exercise, and one that serves the broader rhetorical exercise of asserting a very specific conceptualization of "niceness." I personally find it silly, because the two words are synonyms in prototypical usage and the value of this specific conceptualization of niceness as an idol has limited usefulness or significance outside of the very specific contexts the author addresses.

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3 minutes ago, Dan McClellan said:

It's not an esoteric idea, it's scientific fact. The purpose it serves is to point out that asserting semantic boundaries around words is a rhetorical exercise, not an analytical one. Very few words develop or are used with reference to semantic boundaries. Dictionaries exist in order to give a rough outline as a starting point for people who don't understand a word. They do not adjudicate meaning, they are not thorough or comprehensive, and the underlying conceptual substructure is often distorting. "The masses" do not use dictionary definitions to communicate, they use the same cognitive processes that all humans use. In light of that, to say "Jesus was kind, but he was not nice" is a rhetorical exercise, and one that serves the broader rhetorical exercise of asserting a very specific conceptualization of "niceness." I personally find it silly, because the two words are synonyms in prototypical usage and the value of this specific conceptualization of niceness as an idol has limited usefulness or significance outside of the very specific contexts the author addresses.

That makes sense in most contexts, imo.

For my purposes, it has helped me and several other women and a few men as well to delineate artificially between the two to create a new relationship with the concept of niceness.  To reject it.  To replace the need to please (because so much of our training in being nice is motivated by pleasing others) with a need to care for others more authentically, from a more genuine christlike place.  

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3 minutes ago, Dan McClellan said:

It's not an esoteric idea, it's scientific fact. The purpose it serves is to point out that asserting semantic boundaries around words is a rhetorical exercise, not an analytical one. Very few words develop or are used with reference to semantic boundaries. Dictionaries exist in order to give a rough outline as a starting point for people who don't understand a word. They do not adjudicate meaning, they are not thorough or comprehensive, and the underlying conceptual substructure is often distorting. "The masses" do not use dictionary definitions to communicate, they use the same cognitive processes that all humans use. In light of that, to say "Jesus was kind, but he was not nice" is a rhetorical exercise, and one that serves the broader rhetorical exercise of asserting a very specific conceptualization of "niceness." I personally find it silly, because the two words are synonyms in prototypical usage and the value of this specific conceptualization of niceness as an idol has limited usefulness or significance outside of the very specific contexts the author addresses.

On the contrary, I think it is very useful to make the distinction between the two meanings and doing do is more broadly applicable then the OP context. For instance, niceness without kindness can be cruel. There is plenty of polite, "nice" evil in the world that goes unchecked when people are nice without being kind.

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4 minutes ago, Meadowchik said:

On the contrary, I think it is very useful to make the distinction between the two meanings and doing do is more broadly applicable then the OP context. For instance, niceness without kindness can be cruel. There is plenty of polite, "nice" evil in the world that goes unchecked when people are nice without being kind.

Seems to me "'nice' evil" is precisely the context of the book from which the OP is excerpted. 

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2 hours ago, Dan McClellan said:

Yes, there is an enormous difference between "definition" and "understanding." A definition is a set of necessary and sufficient features that distinguish a concept from all others, but using that framework of necessary and sufficient features for establishing meaning is artificial, distorting, and modern. You know the words "game" and "furniture" without ever looking them up, and even if you did look them up, the definitions you would find (they differ wildly based on what dictionary you check) would never really influence in the slightest the way you use or interpret the word. They're also not incredibly useful, since we don't form our understanding of the things those words can mean based on necessary and sufficient features. We form our understanding based on our experiences with their usage and by the perception of similarity to that usage. The assumption that the practice of definition aligns with the way words mean and the way we interpret them is simply false. It is a distorting and prescriptive linguistic framework. A good discussion of this problem is here: https://www.amazon.com/Linguistic-Categorization-Oxford-Textbooks-Linguistics-dp-0199266646/dp/0199266646/ref=dp_ob_title_bk

Thank you. Let me see if I'm getting this: As a 3-year-old, I learned the word “game” (an invention, words and language not being naturally-occurring) and understood it to mean “board games” without having been provided a verbal definition from my mother, but by getting a demonstration through the activity. I created an intuitive recognition or interpretation in my mind so that if someone asked me what a game was, I could tell them or define it as “Chutes and Ladders” or “a fun thing we do,” or even “eager or willing to do something new or challenging like hunting wild mammals or birds for sport or food.”

So, would it be correct to say that natural communication is the non-verbal exchange between two people (which entails understanding), and that language and symbols are the invented, artificial representation of the non-verbal that typically accompanies the natural experience and becomes second nature? Both use physical means to affect the five senses which prompt the experience and understanding.

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2 hours ago, MustardSeed said:

I hear the word "nice" as a four letter word - it's milquetoast, it's without boundaries, it's manipulative and pleasing.  Its the absence of self and it's the root of much depression.  It robs partnership and is false.

You are nice MustardSeed.  No offense! :)

I think that nice is whatever people make of it, I can see how superficial niceties can be what you describe, but does being nice have to be empty?  What you describe is a pseudo nice, a facade, and misses the virtue in the word.  Kindness can be just as empty and manipulative and without boundaries if we let it, so to with just about every virtue there is.  It can be a facade without boundaries, or it can be genuine and virtuous.      

When I hear the word "nice", I think of, "whatsoever ye would that men should do to you, do ye even so to them: for this is the law and the prophets." 

Can anyone deny that it would be "nice" to be treated that way?

I hope that we don't allow the pseudo side of things to distract us from the genuine.  And of course there should be boundaries with everything. 

 

Edited by pogi
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