Are You Too “Nice” about Your Passion?

When being “nice” compromises what is important to you, you may be hurting more than just yourself.

You’re sitting in a room full of friends when a subject comes up that is close to your heart. Your thoughts have been a little preoccupied at the event so far, but now this topic has your attention.

The speaker at the moment is spouting misinformation and no one is challenging it. You feel yourself ready to burst because you know better!

You have a decision to make right then and there. Do you “play nice” and keep quiet so as to keep the peace? Or do you bring your knowledge and passion to the discussion even if it shifts the dynamic in the room?

Many times when people are faced with this choice they can’t see a way to challenge the speaker without causing a scene. When passions are ignited, people believe they’re doing everyone else a favor by stifling that fire. Folks may worry that if they said what they really think, they’d go too far and may even do irreparable harm to those friendships.

This is so sad to me though. To have something meaningful to contribute to a discussion, but instead choosing to withdraw is to leave discourse impoverished.

This gets really troubling when what the speaker is saying is itself harmful and no one in the room dares counter what is being said…because they want to be nice and keep the peace. It is unfortunate to see people settle for a “peace” that comes at the expense of others.

Of course there is a time to keep silence and a time to speak (Ecclesiastes 3:7), but too often people choose silence when speaking up would be a blessing.

The worry that people won’t be able to express themselves without going too far is quite common. And certainly an angry outburst is likely to undermine what is said and may even alienate listeners.

But people can learn to express what is important to them without being unpleasant. There are communication patterns and techniques that can help people express themselves respectfully and with kindness.

Passion usually comes from a deep place within each person–many times connected to areas of deep hurt as well. It may be that we have some work to do with journaling or counseling to be able to use our passion effectively. But our passions matter–certainly to us, but they matter to others too.

Bringing the wisdom and experience–even the pain–of our passions to bear on a conversation takes courage. It will cost us something to share that part of ourselves. But by engaging a topic fully with our heart and soul we can enrich conversations with others.

In every crowd, there will be some people who are more inclined to speak than others. But the naturally talkative ones aren’t the only people with stories and ideas worth sharing. When that urge to speak up wells up in you, keep in mind that sometimes the nicest thing you can do is to give voice to your passions.

The Double Bind of Labeling

It has been said,

If you label me, you negate me.

I take this to mean that when you try to reduce a person down to a category that you think you understand, then you are likely to lose important nuance about them.

That’s the best case scenario if you’ve somehow managed to attach the correct label to the person.

Of course, if you’re wrong about their label, then it’s even worse because you’ve misunderstood them and found reason to stop listening all at once.

Labeling gets a bad reputation for good reasons, but I’d like to suggest a seemingly contradictory corollary:

If you remove my label, you negate me.

Both can be true.

Negative connotations you associate with a given label may lead you to tell the person, “Oh, you’re not that,” or to minimize it, “Nobody really cares about those distinctions these days.”

See, if someone identifies with a given label, but you try to deny the label, then you undermine something important that person is trying to tell you.

There’s a chance that the person is using the label differently than how you understand it. So, even if you think you know what the label means, it’s a good idea is to ask more questions about what that person means by identifying in that way.

I’ve been on both sides of this. I’ve had times when someone else put a label on me that didn’t really fit. I’ve also had people make wrong assumptions about me based on a label that was important to me.

In either case, I’m always grateful when I get the chance to talk it over and tell my story.

When we think we know what labels do or do not fit others, we too easily dismiss them or discount them. It’s hard work getting beyond labels, but we do best when we keep the conversation open even when labels seem to make understanding complete.

Labels aren’t all bad, but they’re not all good either.

Labels can be helpful when we:

  • honor the ways others identify.
  • take the time to learn why someone chooses a label.
  • assume the best about others as we seek clarification.

Labels can be harmful when we:

  • use them as an excuse to end conversation.
  • assign negative motives to the person based on preconceived unfavorable associations with the label.
  • discount someone just because of the label chosen.

As with dealing with differences, it’s best to talk openly about the labels. By continuing to dialog about what we really mean with labels, we can avoid the double bind of labeling.