Don’t tell me to be nice
Rachelle Mee-Chapman has written an interesting article in Next Wave about “Women in Ministry”. There’s a lot there to think about, including this:
…women-unlike men-are not allowed to be angry, or even frustrated, or really even forceful, assertive, or honest. Recently in the emergent scene there was a little fight over words. Some of the women stated their minds about it. They thought it sucked to be linguistically belittled. They thought it sounded idiotic, in 2004, to speak dismissively of women. Now, most people thought the whole brouhaha was about semantics. But for me, the sadness was that the only way I could be heard was to play nice, to make my language very soft, to send my message though the backdoor. Men and women both-all in the emerging, super hip, super with-it church-told me that my anger wasn’t helping, and that I shouldn’t express rage if I wanted to be like Jesus.
The premise stated here is that being told to be nice is a form of shutting the discussion down, because it is dismissive and patronizing. Is this premise true? Here’s some of what I’ve been thinking about today. First, I agree that niceness (read blandness) is not what following Christ is about. There is a directness that many in the church avoid. Read Jesus, Paul, or any of the prophets. It is not wrong to be angry, frustrated, forceful, assertive, or honest. This should not be discouraged, whether you’re male or female. Second, there’s a line. Many of the men and women in the discussion realized they crossed it, because they apologized for their comments. Some of them were over the line. I can be legitimately angry, but there are still limits on how I can express that anger. It is legitimate to tell me that I expressed anger inappropriately. It would bother me if anyone (male or female) felt shut down and couldn’t speak out on any issue as honestly as they wanted. But at the same time, anger does not justify every expression of itself. The goal is not niceness, but it is legitimate to challenge expressions of anger that cross a line. There are just certain things we should not say about another, even if we are justified in our anger. For instance, if I was angry at you, it would be wrong for me to swear my head off at you and tell you you’re on crack cocaine. My anger may be justified, but that isn’t. I think the real issue here is something deeper. Maybe the real issue is being heard. I don’t think many of us are beyond being corrected, because many times we know we’ve crossed a line in how we’ve expressed our anger and even come to apologize ourselves. But first we want to be heard. We want to be affirmed, to be told that it’s okay to be angry and that our feelings count. Maybe then we can be told, “You know, when you said that, maybe that wasn’t fair,” but first we need to be heard. The problem is that it’s hard to dismiss an unfair expression of anger without dismissing the underlying anger itself, which is often quite justified. But I could be wrong. Help me understand this. I don’t have the answer. How can we allow both honest expressions of anger in a discussion, and still maintain boundaries of respect?