Sometimes It’s Naughty to Be Nice

Sometimes It’s Naughty to Be Nice

Sometimes It’s Nice to Be Naughty…

Let’s face it, we’ve all been naughty. It starts young – coloring outside the lines, staying out later than you’re supposed to, and even worse…or better. We get a zing at the risk of it, the daring, the adventure.

That’s a good thing sometimes – as long as it’s not outside the law of course. But the flip side of that statement is equally true.

Sometimes It’s Naughty to Be Nice

I held a meeting about accelerating sustainability solutions recently. About creating an immersive environment to get to solutions quicker. How to commercialize products that have been developed. How to change policies to support new solutions. How to move people up the engagement curve of energy efficiency and sustainability in their own lives.

On the same day as that meeting, I stood by while a leader in the environmental arena chose not to install an efficient air conditioner in his rental home because it wasn’t good for him financially. A leader that could talk the talk quite well, but in this simple case he wasn’t walking the walk. And I was being nice not to confront him on it. After all, I didn’t want to offend him.

It was absolutely naughty to be nice. It’s naughty for me to be nice right now when I talk about global sustainability solutions. Note that I said “solutions.” I don’t want to just talk about problems. That would be naughty too.

Being Willing to Offend

I understand that this is what people mean when they talk about political correctness. I didn’t want to offend him. I was just as guilty as him of not holding to my values. I can justify it by saying that perhaps that concession in the short term would be justified in the long term in the good we can do together. Sometimes that’s true. But I’m more and more clear that I can’t think of long term any more when it comes to sustainability solutions. The time is only now.

I have to be willing to offend. Offend means to “cause to feel upset, annoyed, or resentful.” A distinction I make is that I have to be willing to offend, but I can still be nice. Nice means pleasing; agreeable; delightful, amiably pleasant; kind, socially acceptable. They are not opposites. I can still aim to be respectful. While I cNaughty or Nice Santaan’t control how my communication is received, I can express my position without being rude, risk causing upset without intending to cause it.

Even if I’m nice according to my own definition, it still may not be perceived as nice. I do my best not to offend, but I may not even know what’s offensive to the other person.  And sometimes it’s just dang hard!


Intention is the key. Intention means goal, purpose, aim.

If my intention is to show how smart or pious I am, if it’s to make someone wrong to make me right, if it’s to be controlling, then that’s naughty. If my intention is truly to move that person AND myself and others to a better place, then it’s nice. Some wise person gave me a phrase I use to gauge situations: what is in “the highest good of all concerned?”

I have to hold to my principles and speak up, but I cannot force people to take the actions I espouse. I have to be willing to let them make their decision. In this case I did speak up, but then I gave him an out. I said, yes, I agreed that it was hard to financially justify for the property owner to make the investment in energy efficiency upgrades. Yes, it’s true that the tenant gets the financial benefits while the owner pays for the investment.

I could have talked about the increase in the value of his investment, the higher value provided to the tenant which could potentially provide higher rent to him, and the value of being true to his values for doing what’s best for the planet.

Instead, when I felt the push back, I pulled back. It wasn’t for the right reasons. I didn’t want to offend for my own benefit. I wasn’t taking into account the highest good of all concerned.

Getting Back on Track

The fact is, it’s natural to have some bumps as we move through life. We need to be prepared to move forward after a perceived offense. It’s that fear of not being able to align and move forward that causes us to back off. I know when there is conflict, I need to resolve it and keep moving. But how?

As usual I look to physics for answers. This situation is like walking down a street and bumping into someone. To keep moving forward, we have at least these four options:

1) Move far apart so we don’t bump again: This may make sense, but if it’s someone you care deeply about, maybe it’s not the best option. You may both achieve your objectives, but without the joy of sharing the successes. However, there are definitely times when it’s best to move apart temporarily. I think of it as choosing to walk down 2nd Street while they walk down 6th Street, with the intention of coming back on 4th Street up ahead.
2) Continue to bump against each other: Do you have those same conversations over and over where you disagree, but never resolve it? That’s this alternative. At least you’re still making progress, but it’s no fun. And when it involves moving towards goals, it means inefficiency because your progress is slowed by those bumps. You both waste energy that could be used productively.
3) Stop completely: This happens way too often. Conflicts happen. They are not an excuse to give up. Sometimes I think I want an excuse to stop. It would be easier… but only in the short term. If we stop, we cannot succeed. As I said before, when it comes to the climate, we cannot let ourselves be stopped.
4) Align so we can move forward side by side: We need to look for where we align. For instance, if you’re still a climate denier, where do we agree? Surely we both want us to use the earth’s resources efficiently. Surely we agree we want good air quality. Let’s agree on that. Let’s look for our similarities rather than our differences. For more on the physics of alignment read Positive Politics, Environmental Goals and People  

We ALL have a role in finding answers. We have an opportunity right now to come together, to join forces, to align in implementing solutions. I need to ask the hard questions. We all do.


That word “Sometimes” is an important one. Different situations call for different decisions. A judgment call. I’m not going to get it correct all the time, nor will anyone else. I may offend sometimes even when I’m doing what I perceive to be in the highest good of all concerned. I have things to learn about tact and diplomacy. We all do. All I can do is my best. That’s all anyone can do.

I’ll apologize right now in case I offend you but I have to be willing to offend if it means helping you change course about climate change. Go ahead, get angry, but then channel that newly released energy towards a brighter future. Please get into action towards a more sustainable future for our planet.

You have my permission to risk offending me if it’s for good intent. I’ll try not to get offended. And please remember – it’s also sometimes nice to be nice.