So there's been something troubling me for almost the entire year now, and since I believe that oftentimes those little nagging feelings are really the Holy Spirit showing me a spot in my life that I need to investigate, I've done a lot of thinking and praying about it. I kind of already settled this for myself back in May, but the issue is something that I face almost on a daily basis, and consequently, I don't think it could hurt to revisit it.
While many people desire to be thought of as pretty or funny or smart (all good things), I've always had a weirder ambition - I want people to think I'm nice. This reputation is something I've been pursuing for several years, and although I think I pretty much achieved it a long time ago, I knew I wasn't being sincere. I don't know for sure when I became aware of it, but I realized that the very same people that I would greet with hugs and compliment to no end in public often became the victims of vicious gossip in private. Luke 6 says that our mouths speak out of the abundance of our hearts; if our hearts are full of good things, we will speak good things, and vice versa. So if only bad things were coming out of my mouth, what did that say about the state of my heart?
My close friends have probably heard me say before that I hate girls. I say that because we have such a tendency to be petty and catty and just straight up mean and malicious. In addition to that, in general we really like to talk. The combination of these two attributes is a recipe for disaster.
There are two quotes that I've seen that have really stuck with me as I've dealt with my own tendency to talk badly about people behind their backs. The first is this: "Confidence is silent, but insecurities are loud." This caused me to investigate the real reason for why I felt the need to talk badly about so many people. If I was talking about how annoying someone else was, was it because I really was worried that all my friends secretly thought that I was annoying too? What was I hoping to accomplish? Every time I put someone down, it made me feel a little more superior and a little more superior. I mean, obviously I must be cooler/smarter/funnier than them if I can see fault in them.
But this is such a foolish way to gain confidence. A confidence built by tearing others down is unstable and fragile - merely a facade that could crumble away with any blow. Rather than dwelling on the faults of others, we should be focusing on our own faults and improving them. The confidence that comes from working to improve your own character is what will last even through times of insecurity.
The second quote has really helped me more in evaluating my friendships than it has me personally (although it has also helped me be a better friend, I hope) It basically says that anyone who will talk badly to you about others will just as soon talk badly to others about you. I have since found this to be true, and it can be very hurtful. I don't want to have that kind of friend, and I certainly don't want to be that kind of friend.
This summer I became aware of how odious it is when someone is constantly talking badly about other people, and I decided that I don't want to be that way. I especially don't want to be that way only in private and cause people to think something of me that I don't deserve. Even though at the time there were still a lot of bad things in my heart, as I started trying to control what I let out of my mouth, the bad things started to be replaced by good. I'm thankful that God has helped me get to a point where I can be sincerely nice to people.
The ancient Greek culture was one that valued honorable behavior and had a concept called "sophrosyne", which was considered to be the epitome of good character. Someone who has sophrosyne is sober-minded and has control over themselves through a knowledge of their own strengths and weaknesses. From the oracle of Delphi - which had a major influence on religious beliefs in this period of time - came numerous sayings (many of which contain similar principles to the Ten Commandments) which became guidelines for how to achieve sophrosyne. One of the most famous of these is simply, "Know thyself." In the Greek culture this was a reminder to not build yourself up beyond what you truly are - know your weaknesses.
Romans 12 contains much wisdom on this matter:
"I say to everyone among you not to think of himself more highly than he ought to think, but to think with sober judgment..."
"Let love be genuine. Abhor what is evil; hold fast to what is good. Love one another with brotherly affection. Outdo one another in showing honor."
"Never be wise in your own sight. Repay no one evil for evil, but give thought to do what is honorable in the sight of all. If possible, so far as it depends on you, live peaceably with all."
Whether it means that I'm being nice, that I have Greek sophrosyne, or whatever else, ultimately I want my behavior to be honorable and to reflect well on my Savior. I know that saying unkind things about other people is not edifying, and even worse is not pleasing to God. Sometimes it can be really difficult, and my decision to avoid this kind of conversation has really hurt some of my friendships, but I know that in due season I will reap rewards if I don't give up on doing good.
It is always worth it to do the right thing.