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Minnesota nice can be a vice

Posted by MDViews on January 27, 2005

Those of you not from Minnesota or its environs may not have heard of “Minnesota nice.” “Minnesota nice” is a peculiar behavior exhibited in large measure by Minnesotans. It’s so prevalent that it now holds the moniker, “Minnesota nice.” It’s probably a hold over from our Scandinavian roots, where the state was viewed as “good”, people were viewed as “good”, everyone was a Lutheran and everyone treated everyone else–dare I say–nicely. (Not to be confused with “Nicely-nicely” from Guys and Dolls.)

I’m not originally from Minnesota, but was born just 20 miles from it in SD to a Scandinavian clan–so I think I have an understanding of “Minnesota nice.”

What are the characteristics of Minnesota nice? Well, first and foremost, it is non-confrontational. It’s just not nice to confront. So one does not confront.

Husband: Why can’t you ever have supper ready, the eight kids fed, the house cleaned, the cows milked and the snow shoveled before I get home?

Normal wife: Get off your high horse and give me a hand, you no-good lout. And by the way, you complain like that again, and you’ll be sleeping with the sheep tonight!

Minnesota nice wife: I’ll try harder next time, dear. Do you want me to repair the combine, too?

Second, it is nice, no matter what. It is always affirming of others, regardless of their brutish behavior.

Patient to nurse: I left my husband and six kids to take a job as a stripper.

Normal nurse: You’ve got to be kidding! Don’t you love your kids?

Minnesota nice nurse: Oh, that’s nice. Do you like your new job?

You get the idea.

Minnesota nice is a non-judgmental, tolerant way of looking at the world. Maybe that’s why Minnesota has been such a liberal state all these years. No one has the courage to say, “You must be crazy!” or “What were you thinking?” or “Behave yourself!”

Gene Edward Veith, a writer for WORLD magazine wrote a piece a couple of years back called, “When Nice is a Vice”. It’s a great article which I dig out from time to time to read again. It has a stong message for “Minnesota nice” people. And also a message for those meek Christians who somehow view Christianity as a variation of “Minnesota nice.”

The point of his article is this: “niceness” is admirable and a behavior quality to which many strive, but is not in and of itself, a virtue. “Niceness” can be a sin.

The virtues, traditionally, are justice (giving people what they deserve), temperance (controlling our appetites and passions), fortitude (having the courage to do what is right) and prudence (making sure what we do has the desired effect). Those four along with faith, hope and love constitute the seven virtues.

Often these virtues will conflict with “being nice”. As Mr. Veith put it:

A boss may choose to be nice and nonconfrontational with an employee, when justice would demand that he be fired. Economic policy might try to promote generosity to the poor, out of nice intentions, while actually harming them through unintended consequences, a violation of prudence. Sometimes niceness can be an excuse to take the easy, pleasant way to avoid an unpleasant problem, a violation of fortitude, or to give rein to one’s sentimental feelings, a violation of temperance.

So,if I do not have the courage to disapprove of sin, and instead, am non-confrontationally “nice”, I’ve done the King and the Kingdom no service.

So, dear reader, Christians are not always “nice.” They confront sin with courage. They love justice. They are careful enough to see that their actions have the desired effect. And they control their passions.

Those four added to faith, hope and love will make a life well-lived.

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