I’ve seen this quote all over Pinterest in various forms, attributed to various authors: “Sometimes it’s better to be kind than right. We don’t need a brilliant mind that speaks, but a patient heart who listens.” Sometimes the word “nice” is substituted for “kind.”
I think what people who propose this have in mind is interpersonal relations. We probably all know someone who “always has to be right.” Now, most of us want to be right. No one wants to go around misinformed or holding onto opinions that are known to be wrong or foolish. But most of us have at least enough humility to realize that we might unwittingly be wrong sometimes. Some people are hard to be convinced of that, though.
This quote might also refer to those people’s little idiosyncrasies that can rub each other the wrong way. How the toilet paper goes on the roll. Where to squeeze the toothpaste tube. It’s usually best to let those things go and compromise for the sake of the relationship. The person who has to have everything his or her way because of course that’s the only right way can make everyone else miserable.
But in some cases, being wrong can be deadly. The wrong wire cut on the bomb. The wrong medical procedure or medicine. The wrong path to a broken bridge. The wrong opinion about who Jesus is or how one can know Him.
Unfortunately in my particular circles in Christendom, people can sometimes use truth like a steamroller or bullhorn or club. Arrogance does not make the gospel winsome or inviting; harshness can turn people off to the truth.
In addition, we need to care about the whole person, not just their response to our truth. Years ago when my sister attended the church I was attending at the time, she had a number of people wanting to take her under their wing and advise her along the way. She needed the advice, but she felt like all anyone was interested in was telling her what she should be doing: no one wanted to just befriend her. When I first became a Christian, I had to realize that my relationship with my lost family couldn’t be just about my trying to witness to them. That only made them feel like a “project.” I needed to listen to them, do things with them, just love them.
Sometimes we have to wait until a person is ready before we can tell them things they need to hear. Jesus told the disciples once, “I have yet many things to say unto you, but ye cannot bear them now” (John 16:12).
On the other hand, Jesus rebuked the disciples for being fearful and not having faith in a situation where fear would seem like a natural response: being in a boat in a storm at sea.
And sometimes He shared truth that the other person did not receive, and He let him walk away, like the “rich young ruler.” He didn’t call him back, soften the message, or backtrack so the relationship could continue. When God brings a person to confront their dearest idol, it’s a crisis, and He wants them to see it for what it is and repent. Thankfully in His grace He’ll often bring a person to that point a number of times (I’ve always hoped that that man came back to the Lord at another time). Chris Anderson makes the point that in our day, there is a rush to get such a person to the “sinner’s prayer” and gloss over their heart issues: “How many such men have been led in a sinner’s prayer that salved their consciences but didn’t save their souls? How many have thus been unwittingly inoculated against the truth? How many have left churches lost and relieved rather than lost and sorrowful?” We need to allow time for godly sorrow to do its work toward repentance unto salvation.
In addition, God, through the New Testament writers, said that sometimes an issue is so important that His people need to take a stand and separate from others:
II Thess. 3: 6: Now we command you, brethren, in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, that ye withdraw yourselves from every brother that walketh disorderly, and not after the tradition which he received of us.
II Thess. 3: 14-15: And if any man obey not our word by this epistle, note that man, and have no company with him, that he may be ashamed. Yet count him not as an enemy, but admonish him as a brother.
I Cor. 5:9-11: I wrote unto you in an epistle not to company with fornicators: Yet not altogether with the fornicators of this world, or with the covetous, or extortioners, or with idolaters; for then must ye needs go out of the world. But now I have written unto you not to keep company, if any man that is called a brother be a fornicator, or covetous, or an idolator, or a railer, or a drunkard, or an extortioner; with such an one no not to eat.
II Cor. 6: 14: Be ye not unequally yoked together with unbelievers: for what fellowship hath righteousness with unrighteousness? and what communion hath light with darkness? (This does not mean we’re not supposed to interact at all with unbelievers, but we’re not to be “yoked” together in situations like marriage).
And the apostles could also seem harsh in their warnings against false teachers, but the truth in question was so vital, and error in its regard so eternally deadly, that strong warnings were needed.
So is it more important to be nice or kind than to be right? It depends on the issue in question and the needs of the people involved. It’s best to be both if possible. The Bible speaks often of God’s kindness and admonishes us in many places to be kind. In interpersonal relationships, especially, we’re to “Put on therefore, as the elect of God, holy and beloved, bowels of mercies, kindness, humbleness of mind, meekness, longsuffering; Forbearing one another, and forgiving one another, if any man have a quarrel against any: even as Christ forgave you, so also do ye” (Colossians 3: 12-13). In larger issues where a right view is essential, we don’t need to convey or defend truth in an unnecessarily harsh, negative, gripy, or cynical way. But cutting corners on the truth in an effort to be nice is neither kind nor loving.
See also Does niceness really matter?
Sharing at Thought-Provoking Thursday.