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“It just wears you out being with nice people,” Stanley Hauerwas points out in a 2019 YouTube video. Having lived in the South most of his life, he likely knows this reality from experience. As Hauerwas did not describe the genesis of such feelings, I will suggest four reasons why this reality is the case.

First, being nice can serve as a cover for evil. The Psalmist speaks of the wicked as those “who speak cordially with their neighbors but harbor malice in their hearts” (Ps. 28:3b; see also Jer. 9:8). Since niceness is the instrument of flatterers (Ps. 12:2; Pr. 28:23; Pr. 29:5), it takes energy to discern the motives of nice people. Second, niceness can often stem from a person focusing on their own feelings and comfort, instead of another person’s flourishing. Being around self-absorbed and self-protective people is always draining.

Third, the nice person tends to avoid talking about things of substance that may take one into possible areas of importance or disagreement. Their primary focus is on the unbiblical end of preventing any suffering or discomfort in human interaction. As one administrator in a southern university told me recently, she often ends her conversations with “Is there something you are not telling me?” Being nice becomes a way of avoiding hard mentoring/sanctifying conversations and conflict. Yet as Proverbs 28:23 reminds us, “Whoever rebukes a person will in the end gain favor rather than one who has a flattering tongue.”

Fourth, even if the people being nice are focused on the other person, they are often focused more on the other person’s feelings and less on their overall flourishing. However, as Nevitt Sanford’s famous student development theory notes, we need both challenge and support to flourish and not simply the supportive experience of niceness.1 This finding simply reflects the reality that in a fallen world, growth towards excellence requires suffering and cannot avoid emotional discomfort.

In the YouTube video mentioned earlier, Hauerwas goes on to say, “You know, you would just like to produce a few meaner and leaner folks who follow Jesus. That would make a difference in the world in which we find ourselves.” What Hauerwas is likely getting at is that being nice, spiritually deep, and willing to confront sin usually do not go together. When Jude writes of heretics, “These people are blemishes at your love feasts, eating with you without the slightest qualm—shepherds who feed only themselves. They are clouds without rain, blown along by the wind; autumn trees without fruit and uprooted—twice dead. They are wild waves of the sea, foaming up their shame; wandering stars, for whom the blackest darkness has been reserved forever” (vv. 12–13), that is not nice.

Nice, I contend, is a virtue we are pressured to exhibit in American culture. It is more of a capitalistic or democratic virtue than a Christian virtue. It smooths relationships that help financial transactions and political life in a pluralistic country. It helps undergird the autonomous social life we prefer and provides the necessary social lubricant needed for a diverse group of people to live together and function at a minimum level of harmony. God’s kindness helps with a different set of purposes.

Acquiring God’s Kindness

Thus, I contend that instead of suggesting meanness as an antidote, Christians should focus on acquiring the Christian virtue of kindness, which creates a different kind of emphasis. As recounted yesterday, imitating God’s kindness involves taking substantive, concrete actions to promote the flourishing of others who are in depraved and difficult circumstances. Often, it is shown to those in bondage. In other words, God’s kindness that we are to imitate is not indiscriminate but rather has particular, redemptive ends in mind.

Furthermore, God holds certain virtues we see as conflicting together. God is both stern and kind at the same time and whether he responds to us with kindness or sternness depends upon our sin and our faith. Paul, when writing to the Romans about Israel in chapter 11, adds:

Consider therefore the kindness and sternness of God: sternness to those who fell, but kindness to you, provided that you continue in his kindness. Otherwise, you also will be cut off. And if they [the Jews] do not persist in unbelief, they will be grafted in, for God is able to graft them in again. (22-23 NIV)

The passage reveals that God is both the master of showing sternness to the fallen and kindness to the faithful.

What is also clear from any study of God’s kindness is that giving unbelievers what they want is not a kindness that imitates God’s kindness. Instead, it is imitating pagan niceness. I sometimes find my student affairs students embrace pagan niceness and hospitality, but not Christian kindness and hospitality. For example, when discussing whether Baylor should allow Muslims and Hindus to form their own religious worship groups on campus for worship, many student affairs practitioners gravitate toward giving non-Christian students what they want. The same is true of certain Christian professors when there is a secular minority at their Christian university. They have a hard time drawing strong boundaries that violate their culturally imbibed notions of pagan niceness and hospitality. God’s kindness offers to humans what they need for their flourishing. That may be different from what they want.

As Christian scholars, we must realize that Christian versions of virtues like kindness, hospitality, compassion, or love come with strong convictions and boundaries (and they also can involve breaking human-made boundaries or social conventions). For example, 2 John is quite clear that both Christian hospitality and love involve recognizing that “Anyone who welcomes [those who do not continue in the teaching of Christ] shares in their wicked work” (2 John 11). And yes, that admonition to exclude feels uncomfortable and not very nice. But the clear biblical teaching is that Christians should be men and women of a unique form of Christian kindness, hospitality, and love with a concern for redemption and righteousness, like Jesus, rather than a concern for simply being nice boys or girls.

The Practice and Study of Kindness

Fortunately, the reality is that common grace still seems to guide even our post-Christian culture in some instances. In a list of 66 different virtues I collected from state character education laws more than a decade ago, “nice” did not make the list, even though second-rate qualities such as cheerfulness, cleanliness, and courtesy did (all listed in character education laws from AL, GA, and SC at the time).2 In contrast, kindness was listed for nine states. I do know of one K–12 character education program whose original motto was “Work hard, be nice,” but it discarded that motto three years ago. Instead, there are numerous works promoting a mixture of pagan and Christian views of kindness in schools.3

Yet, Christians still need to be clear about the difference between nice and kindness when it comes to discussing and researching kindness. Positive psychology scholars have at times conflated the pagan virtue of being nice with kindness. For example, “niceness” was mentioned as a possible secondary synonym for kindness in Christopher Peterson and Martin Seligman’s first positive psychology handbook, Character Strengths and Virtues.4 Not surprisingly though, its ambiguous nature has meant that niceness has not been defined, studied, or measured by positive psychologists as a virtue in the same way as kindness.

Some current positive psychology scholars who study kindness do end up distorting both kindness and the means of obtaining it, likely due to our over-sentimentalized culture and the above-mentioned conflation of the concept with niceness. One group of scholars recently claimed that kindness emerges out of one’s “emotional undercurrent.”5 It is these “emotional experiences that can stimulate constructive change.”6 Christian kindness, however, is produced by our holistic experience of God or others’ kindness.

Oddly, in the same study, even though the authors point to emotion’s key role as the source of kindness, the intervention they asked students to perform did not encourage students to change their emotions. Instead, they asked students to change their habits by performing five acts of kindness across six weeks. Indeed, kindness is better studied by looking at actions that are considered kind, since they show the final evidence of kindness – just like God’s actions are how we understand God’s kindness.7

Fascinatingly, a study of what adds to people’s social status undertaken in twelve countries found that their particular version of being kind was the second highest virtue (after being honest) and the thirteenth highest quality for increasing one’s status.8 Other studies have found being kind also increases our subjective well-being.9 These results should not be surprising. Kindness is one of God’s virtues and we are designed in God’s image to incarnate that virtue.

Yet, we should not be fooled by these studies into believing that imitating God’s kindness merely produces human flourishing that results in popularity and does not involve suffering. Since Jesus is the ultimate expression of God’s kindness, we must realize that kindness involves both incarnating oneself among those in bondage and suffering for them (Titus 3:4; Eph. 2:7). It may entail saying uncomfortable truths, exposing sin or suffering for another, actions that are much different than being nice by speaking cordially with one’s neighbor.

A female missionary my wife and I support who is a citizen from one country in Asia and is ministering in another Asian country, recently shared with us by Zoom how she was reported for evangelism, taken into police custody, and then slapped several times by a female police officer. Two weeks later, she sensed that God had told her to bring gifts to the police officers at that station, so she did. The police officer declared, “No one has ever done this before!” and the female officer apologized for her actions (i.e., repented). That’s imitating God’s kindness. We may talk or sing about trying to “Kill Em with Kindness,” but in reality incarnating God’s unique kindness, involves courageous confrontation, may bring repentance, and in some cases involves the risk of being killed.


  1. Nevitt Sanford, Where Colleges Fail: A Study of the Student as a Person (San Francisco: Jossey-Bass, 1967).
  2. Perry L. Glanzer and Andrew J. Milson, “Legislating the Good: A Survey and Evaluation of Contemporary Character Education Legislation,” Educational Policy 20, no. 3 (2006): 525–50.
  3. John-Tyler Binfet, Cultivating Kindness : An Educator’s Guide. Toronto ; University of Toronto Press, 2022; Hunter Clarke-Fields, Raising Good Humans : A Mindful Guide to Breaking the Cycle of Reactive Parenting and Raising Kind, Confident Kids. Oakland, CA: New Harbinger Publications, Inc., 2019; Ric Stuecker, Cultivating Kindness in School : Activities That Promote Integrity, Respect, and Compassion in Elementary and Middle School Students (Champaign, IL: Research Press, 2004).
  4. Christopher Peterson and Martin E. P. Seligman. Character Strengths and Virtues: A Handbook and Classification (New York: Oxford University Press, 2004), 325.
  5. Shelly L. Kerr, Analise O’Donovan, and Christopher A. Pepping. “Can Gratitude and Kindness Interventions Enhance Well-Being in a Clinical Sample?” Journal of Happiness Studies 16, no. 1 (2015): 17–36.
  6. Kerr et al., “Can Gratitude and Kindness Interventions Enhance Well-Being in a Clinical Sample?” 17. The other unfortunate thing about this study is that the authors equate compassion with the emotion that fuels kindness whereas biblically speaking, as I have written before, Christian compassion is not simply an emotion (that is empathy), but it necessarily involves both emotion and action.
  7. Katie J. Shillington, Andrew M. Johnson, Tara Mantler, Shauna M. Burke, and Jennifer D. Irwin. “Kindness as an Intervention for Student Social Interaction Anxiety, Resilience, Affect, and Mood: The KISS of Kindness Study II.” Journal of Happiness Studies 22, no. 8 (2021): 3631–3661.
  8. David M Buss, Patrick K Durkee, Todd K Shackelford, Brian F Bowdle, David P Schmitt, Gary L Brase, Jae C Choe, and Irina Trofimova. “Human Status Criteria: Sex Differences and Similarities Across 14 Nations.” Journal of Personality and Social Psychology 119, no. 5 (2020): 987.
  9. Claudia Gherghel, Dorin Nastas, Takeshi Hashimoto, and Jiro Takai. “The Relationship between Frequency of Performing Acts of Kindness and Subjective Well-Being: A Mediation Model in Three Cultures.” Current Psychology (New Brunswick, N.J.) 40, no. 9 (2021): 4446–4459; Shillington et al., 2021; Jessica L. Cotney, and Robin Banerjee. “Adolescents’ Conceptualizations of Kindness and Its Links with Well-Being: A Focus Group Study.” Journal of Social and Personal Relationships 36, no. 2 (2019): 599–617; Oliver Scott Curry, Lee A. Rowland, Caspar J. Van Lissa, Sally Zlotowitz, John McAlaney, and Harvey Whitehouse. “Happy to Help? A Systematic Review and Meta-Analysis of the Effects of Performing Acts of Kindness on the Well-Being of the Actor.” Journal of Experimental Social Psychology 76 (2018): 320–329.

Perry L. Glanzer

Baylor University
Perry L. Glanzer, Ph.D., is Professor of Educational Foundations and a Resident Scholar with Baylor Institute for Studies of Religion.


  • Phil Davignon says:

    This is great, Perry. The distinction between being nice and Christian kindness is much needed. Thank you!

  • Gordon Moulden says:

    The one Christian virtue akin to kindness that is far superior to “niceness”, and sorely needed in relationships, is grace. Grace extends “merciful kindness” (Strong’s concordance 5485) to others such that it forgives their weaknesses, their errors, as opposed to exercising a knee-jerk judgmentality. The most powerful instance of grace extended to me was by my college freshman English professor, who, seeing a scared and embarrassed student of his who’d woken up at 9:15 a.m. for a 9:00 am final exam standing in front of him, allowed him to do it, from start to finish, without penalty. I have not forgotten that in over fifty years. We need to extend that grace both to those in our lives but also to ourselves, particularly in new things: a job or during the first year of marriage, when there are mistakes and misunderstandings that require a patient response of good will. Blending patience, mercy, kindness, generosity, and forgiveness, I cannot think of a human virtue that is more Christian apart from love. But really, it is an expression of agape (“Love is patient . . . kind . . . does not take account of a wrong suffered . . . bears all things, believes all things . . . never fails.) and as such, deserves far more attention from the pulpit and from small-group leaders than it likely gets.

  • Joseph 'Rocky' Wallace says:

    Perry, such an important topic to discuss. In a recent national ed leadership conference, I sat through a presentation that included the moderator warning of the dangers of ‘servant leadership’, as by his definition it guilts people into doing way too much work that others could be doing. He clearly had not read the literature on legitimate servant leadership, which is not about being “nice”, but instead about investing in the healthy growth of self, others, and the organization. Yes, I “gracefully and kindly” (but not nicely) corrected him at the end of the presentation…

  • William B. Collier, Ph.D says:

    Nicely worded essay and you were careful to distinguish between niceness and kindness. “””””But”””””” look at your title – you just claimed that Southerners, Methodists and Canadians of being nice, not kind or graceful. Really?? (Not being kind here brother). I think you meant it as a gentle joke, but you never qualified it or said so in the article. As a Southerner I could rant about Northern rudeness, and pray the quality does not get elevated to the level of a virtue. But having spent considerable time up North I know it is just a different culture and that rudeness runs the gamut of people both North and South. That being said you might want to qualify your title before someone from the South and Far North says, “Why bless your heart!” (Forgive me I had to throw that one in.)

    Bill Collier
    Senior Professor of Chemistry

    • pglanzer says:

      Bill, you’re certainly right that there are other extremes we should avoid. I mentioned this post to a former student who works on Long Island, and he laughed and shared, “I never met a New Yorker tempted to engage in niceness.”