I have always considered “niceness” a flimsy quality. When my children were little, I remember drilling into their heads, as best I could,”Niceness is not necessarily good, and goodness is not necessarily nice.” I see “niceness” as being akin to good manners – a helpful social strategy better than “un-niceness” but without much moral depth. Still, it helps make the world go round, doesn’t it? We all prefer to be served by “nice” salesmen to rude ones. Still, not making the fundamental decision to understand the differences between niceness and goodness can be dangerous.
Let me tell you why I have been thinking about this. Some background: I have been reading a book that my son, Tim, (challies.com) mentioned in passing on his website several months ago. It bears the happy title of “Predators, Pedophiles, Rapists, and Other Sex Offenders” by Anna Salter. Why would I read such a book? Because three of my own children were directly endangered by sexual perverts within our own circles when they were young. (Thank God, they were not harmed) And what circles were these? Our evangelical church circles. And that was in a less sex saturated and depraved age than this present one. In other words, I take for granted that all children are vulnerable to predatory people. I now have thirteen little grandchildren and I would like to know as much as possible about who these people are and how they operate.
So, this book has been most helpful. It has been carefully researched and is extremely well-written. As usual, with an excellent book, I have been left with a few nuggets that I will never forget. I hope to write about these over the next few weeks, in stages. But the one I want to mention today is her ringing endorsement of the distinction between niceness and goodness. Salter can not emphasize enough that sexual crime is based on deception – active deception by the perpetrator that he is a “nice” person, a “warm” person. His total preoccupation in honing in on a victim is that the child’s family trust him and give him access to their child. And we are only too willing to see niceness as goodness and warmth as caring. As Salter says over and over again, in as many different ways as she can, we do so much of the predator’s work for him, by taking him at face value.
Let me give you just a couple of quotes that I know you will find uncomfortably interesting:
“It seems impossible to convince people that private behavior cannot be predicted from public behavior. Kind, nonviolent individuals behave well in public, but so do many people who are brutal behind the scenes.”
“Niceness is a decision,” writer Gavin De Becker wrote in ‘The Gift of Fear’. It is a strategy of social interaction; it is not a character trait.” Elsewhere his writes, “Predators should at least have the decency to be rude.” And Salter comments, “There are days I want to tattoo this on my forehead. De Becker is right, but who believes him?”
Aren’t these sobering and frightening realities? They call us as Christians to be faithful to the “dark” side of Scripture, as we are to the “light”…That the human heart truly is “desperately wicked and deceitful above all things.”
May God grant us the courage -without being paranoid – to be vigilant in all things. And I complete this thought by adapting the title of Susan Macaulay’s book …“For the Children’s Sake”.