(You may visit Mary Beth Bonacci's website at www.reallove.net.)
Nothing drives me crazier than seeing people back down from a correct decision, alter proper priorities, or in any other way fail to do the “right” thing under the guise of wanting to be “nice” or “not hurt anyone’s feelings.” It’s wimpy, it’s selfish and it’s wrong. And I said so.
But at the same time I recognize that we human persons have a tendency to move from extreme to extreme, always swinging right past the virtuous point that lies in between. And I could envision that happening here, with some particularly zealous person deciding, “You’re right! No more Mr. Nice Guy for me! From now on, all my decisions stick, no matter who or what says otherwise.”
Okay, so let’s review the whole situation here. Our primary obligation in life is to do the right thing, in all circumstances. “The right thing” consists largely of honoring our obligations. We need to carefully and prayerfully figure out what it is we’re supposed to do, and we need to do it. We need to prioritize among competing demands, placing those things first (family, commitments, etc.) that need to be first. No one should be able to sway us, by guilt or other means, off the path of doing what we know to be the right thing.
But also remember that the essence of what is “right” in God’s eyes lies in recognizing the image and likeness of God in every human person, and acting accordingly. In other words, we’re supposed to treat people the way God would if He were here. Now, granted, it’s a little tough to guess what exactly God would do in any given situation. (If you doubt that, just read the Gospels. If you didn’t already know the various stories about Jesus’ life, would you be able to guess the endings?) But we do have a few guidelines. And the primary one is that every person is created for his or her own sake, and needs to be treated as such.
This is exactly why I can’t stand “pleasers.” Pleasers are people who will compromise the way they treat the image and likeness of God in someone else, or in themselves, because a third party is pressuring them into it. We need to be “inflexible” enough and courageous enough to know how we ought to behave, and to behave that way regardless of the “flack” or guilt trips we get from others trying to manipulate us. In moral decision-making, the right decision is the right decision and nobody should be able to steer us from it.
But that doesn’t mean we need to be absolutely inflexible in all situations. When there is no moral component involved when we are not being imposed upon unreasonably or asked to do that which is immoral or out of keeping with our priorities then we should be flexible. We need to be vigilant in looking out for the needs of others, and doing what we can to fulfill those needs.
Perhaps an example would be helpful. A man is known among his friends as a “nice guy” who will help anyone who asks. So everyone asks. Constantly. He’s so busy moving boxes, hauling furniture and changing fuses for his friends that he doesn’t have enough time to spend with his family. He doesn’t like it, but doesn’t have the heart to say “no” when someone asks him for help. This man is a pleaser, and his behavior is wrong.
Now let’s look at a man who decides that time with his family comes first, and he sticks to that commitment. Saturday is family time for him, and he reserves it for being with his wife and kids. One Saturday a neighbor calls. His elderly mother has been rushed to the hospital, and he can’t get there because his car is in the shop. He desperately needs a ride. But our friend the family man says, “Gee Buddy, I’m sorry. But I promised my four year-old I’d play dominos with him, and well, you know my policy. Family first.” This man has run squarely into the other extreme, and he is just as wrong.
See the difference between the two extremes? The guiding principle here is kindness. Every person around you is a precious human being, created and loved by God. We’re called to treat them that way. It’s a good thing, a very good thing, to be considerate of the needs and desires of others, and to put them ahead of our own selfish desires.
It’s important for us to be able to prioritize those needs, and to balance our obligations to our families, our friends, our communities, our Church and ourselves. It’s important that we not allow anyone to manipulate us into disrupting that balance. We need to stay in touch with God, and to constantly monitor ourselves, to make sure we’re maintaining that balance, somewhere smack in the middle between “pleaser” and “meanie.”
Extremes are great in skiing and skateboarding. They have no place in virtue.