Wisdom and Minnesota Nice

Hey’all, I’m reblogging these from the Bethel blog.  Besides, this buys me time to write other stuff.  K’cool!

Since I would imagine that most Bethel students, faculty, and staff are born-and-raised Minnesotans, the idea of “Minnesota Nice” comes as a given. We Minnesotans appreciate politeness, not making a fuss about things, slowing down to let another driver merge into our lane, and our self-deprecating humor. For those outside of the North Star State, this behavior comes off as annoying, obnoxious, or—at worst— passive-aggressive.

The crowning achievement of Minnesota Nice

Still, it takes no small amount of intercultural competence to understand how Minnesotans and non-Minnesotans can come to understand and appreciate each other while we’re here. In fact, it takes no small amount of wisdom for us to learn how to live with and love one another. These talents, intercultural competence and wisdom, are skills the Bethel community deeply values.

Some suggest that Minnesota Nice is influenced by an implicit code of conduct for Scandinavian culture as being summarized in these tenets:

“Don’t think that you are special.”

“Don’t think that you are good at anything.”

“Don’t think that you can teach us anything.”

For the Minnesotan, we are shaped by society to think that we are not more special than anyone else, not better than anyone else, and not to stir up the status quo. Thus, Minnesota Nice “doesn’t have all that much to do with being nice. It’s more about keeping up appearances, about keeping the social order, about keeping people in their place.” At best this is meant to foster harmony in community; at worst it truly is a passive-aggressive judgment of persons and their worth in a community. Ouch!

Now, don’t get me wrong; I’m really proud of my Minnesota Nice, especially the whole avoiding-conflict-at-all-costs part. But, I wonder if we actually stir up conflict in the way we avoid it.  Consider Proverbs 15:1 (please-thank-you):

“A gentle response turns away anger, but a harsh word stirs up wrath.” – NET Bible

Nice wisdom, absolutely; but I wonder if at times we Minnesotans think we’re giving a ‘gentle response’ when really it’s a passive-aggressive response. This proverb is about meeting conflict head on, not aboutavoiding conflict, and certainly not about frustrating conflict through passive-aggressive behavior. In this sense, a ‘gentle’ a.k.a. passive-aggressive response can indeed stir up wrath.

Dearly beloved, allow me to suggest a few pieces of wisdom for moving forward in living with and loving one another in the land of Minnesota nice.  First, to the Minnesotans: recognize the strengths and setbacks of our culture. Accept and acknowledge our cultural penchant towards passive-aggressiveness, but don’t be ashamed of it.  For the non-Minnesotans: think about how you can integrate culturally while you are here. Learn the culture and share your own. And remember, a harsh word will certainly stir up the wrath of a Minnesotan (but they probably won’t let you know it).

And finally, some words to both: learn to accept each other’s culture, especially the differences.  Meet each other halfway as a means of understanding and relating to one another.  In conflict be aware of culture, because a harsh word (whether aggressive or passive-aggressive) will stir up wrath, but a gentle, sincere, and honest response will turn anger away.

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