Friday, September 7, 2012

Goodness, niceness, kindness, the meaning of words

Rachael says: "Here’s all I am saying: the conflation of ethical or just conduct (goodness), and polite conduct (niceness) is a big problem."
"This works because the primacy of nice in our culture creates a useful tool – to control people and to delegitimise their anger. A stark example of this is the stereotype of the desirably meek and passive woman, which is often held over women’s heads if we step out of line. How much easier is it to hold on to social and cultural power when you make a rule that people who ask for an end to their own oppression have to ask for it nicely, never showing anger or any emotion at being systematically disenfranchised? (A lot easier.)"
"So if you – the oppressed – hurt someone’s feelings, you’re just like the oppressor, right? Wrong. Oppression is not about hurt feelings. It is about the rights and opportunities that are not afforded to you because you belong to a certain group of people."
Food for thought.  I find this sometimes to be a problem in the church.  When we go on Sunday, we are supposed to wear our happy faces (at least a sociologist would likely observe this), and we are supposed to be nice to each other.  We are not to let our jagged edges or bleeding wounds show.  Best foot forward, and all that.  I am not sure this is particularly biblical because the Bible definitely talks more about loving each other and not really about being polite or nice to each other.

Being kind is commanded, yes, but kindness is another word that has been warped, and now people use it synonymously with "nice."  I actually struggled with this when I was reading manga or watching anime.  Characters would describe characters who were not polite or civil and generally not nice at all as being kind, and I would go, "Dwah?"  I would wonder, "Is this a Japanese thing I just don't understand?"  I eventually realized it was just that translators are more precise with words and their meanings and were simply using the word as it was meant to be used, and I wasn't used to that.  The manner may have been gruff, harsh, or impolite, but the intentions and actions showed a loving concern for others: kindness in its essence?

So do you ever struggle with the way culture (especially in the church) has equated goodness with niceness?  Any particular instances that left you frustrated or scratching your head?  Do you think it's really just basically about power, or is there more to it than that?  And why does the church seem to be buying into it?

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