Since birth we’ve heard it again and again, “Be nice!” Our mothers said it, our fathers said it, our grandparents said it, our teachers, preachers and religious leaders of all type said it. Be nice! It seems to be the ultimate in being loving. But being loving isn’t necessarily nice.
Nice means being pleasant, being pleasing, being polite and perhaps even self-deprecating. Being nice means that we smile even when we don’t feel like smiling. Being nice means always saying “Please” and “thank you,” always turning the other cheek and never rocking any boats.
But as we can see from the leadership of any of the great spiritual teachers—they were definitely not always nice. They were direct, confrontive when necessary and even demonstrated anger—example, Jesus turned the tables over in the temple. Yet, we continue to believe that love looks like nice.
Therefore, we tolerate the intolerable and accept the unacceptable in the name of love. We say that we forgive when we really mean that we are just giving someone another chance to do it to us again. We say that we’ve been loving when we do that. In that way, being nice is often filled to overflowing with lies to self and other, with pretense of all kind.
Yes, love looks like love. But it also looks like truth. That famous chapter in 1 Corinthians 13 of the Christian Bible, which is used, often regardless of religion, to exemplify love, tells us that love rejoices in truth. So, if the truth is that you are being perpetually wounded by someone with whom you are in relationship, it isn’t loving to pretend to yourself or the other person that things are okay when they are not.
The truth is that when you feel wounded, you have love’s permission to say, “I’ve been wounded” or something like it. You also have love’s permission to draw boundaries that protect you, and which simultaneously inform the other that his or her deeds are harmful to others.
The great spiritual leaders of all time had one objective in mind—to awaken all—including themselves—to the Spirit—the Oneness of all. Jesus, in particular, spoke of all law falling under one heading—love. So, how can it be true that the objective is awakening and at the same time, the objective is love? Well, it can be true because they are one and the same.
Telling the truth to someone is loving. Of course, how you tell that truth makes a difference, but the act of telling is loving. Of course, the truth is a lot more vulnerable than lecturing someone about their behavior. The truth tells what’s going on inside you, rather than judging what’s going on inside someone else. So, if you say, “it is too hurtful for me to stay in this relationship any longer” you are telling a loving truth—which offers awakening to both parties. But if you say, “You are mean and abusive and I can’t stand to be around you,” you are not necessarily telling the truth, because your words assume that you know what’s going on inside the other person.
Living in truth means drawing boundaries around that truth. So that if someone’s words or behaviors are harming you physically, emotionally, mentally, sexually or financially, love gives you permission to draw boundaries around that truth and protect yourself from that person. That very protection offers a feedback loop to the other person, which offers him or her the potential to awaken to the truth that s/he is not living authentically but is living in a mode that harms others. That mode is a kind of armor that shuts out the authentic Self--which in turn shuts out consciousness of Spirit, Oneness with all.
Every time we tell the truth to self or other, we are being loving. Being nice would say, “Don’t tell them that, it might upset them.” Love says, rejoice in truth.
Andrea Mathews is the author of four books, the latest of which is “Letting Go of Good: Dispel the Myth of Goodness to Find Your Genuine Self.” She is the host of the very popular Authentic Living Show and a therapist with over 30 years’ experience.