Q: I try to be nice in relationships, but it often doesn't have the effect I want; sometimes it seems to make things worse. Should I keep trying to be nice?

This is an important question. Often I hear people say, "I know love is important, but sometimes when I try to be nice, people just walk all over me." This means you need to learn to love more.

It is good to appreciate the distinction between loving and being nice. As a matter of emphasis, it is more important to love, than to try to act loving or to be nice. Some hearing this might wonder if I am saying one should not try to be nice. What is really important is where you start.

It is always nice to be nice, and I would like always to be nice. However, when someone is "trying to be nice," and it is not working for them, the solution is to forget about mere human efforts to be "nice" until one learns to be more loving. If you are trying to be nice, without being good, intelligent, honest, loving, brave, compassionate, unselfish, and forgiving - then what is the substance of that niceness? Sometimes such an effort can become a nice covering for evil.  Then it is not nice at all. When did you last see "God is Nice" on a church wall?

Active spiritual loving is the substance and reality behind being truly nice. If you have nice without love, you have something that is a loser. An inappropriate response to that would be to say, "Oh, I won't be nice until I can be more loving?" That's not it either. The question isn't whether love is nice, but whether our efforts to be nice are unsuccessful because they don't have enough love behind them.

The way to get beyond this is to forget about acting loving or trying to be nice as an exertion of human effort. What we need for this is sincere prayers to learn how to really love, and following where that leads us in acting it out. Then we will gradually experience our God-given loving nature unfold spontaneously from within.

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