Minnesota Nice

Grandfather Helping Teen

There is a cliche about Minnesotans that most of us Minnesota dwellers get to hear from time to time: “Minnesota nice”. Evidently our residents are by and large “nicer” than other states’ residents. (?!?) Now, I’ve always been a resident of the state, so it is terrifically hard to be objective about it all, but I’m going to see if I can conjecture what God might think of this niceness assertion…

First off, I think the cliche is rooted in our largely Scandinavian heritage. Minnesota’s first immigrant dwellers came primarily from Sweden, Norway and Finland. Seems the countryside and climate reminded them of their homeland…felt like home so they stopped heading west and settled in. By and large, as I understand it, the Scandinavian people are known for their restrained, yet obliging and polite demeanors–they are very “nice” people, very pleasant sorts. They brought their faith with them: Lutheranism, a reserved, yet “nice” branch of Christianity…Lutherans are known for their coffee hours and amazing potlucks, not for wreaking havoc…at least not Scandinavian Lutherans…their underside is much more subtle than that. So, they helped instill a culture of “niceness” before all the rough and tumble Catholics came rumbling in to stake their space. As far as I can tell, the Catholics had to ummm…..let’s say “adjust” upon entry… Most Catholics figured it out, could be that others are still working on it…;-)

Well, now that I’ve bruised a few Catholics in oh, such a “nice” way, I’ll try to address all this “niceness” stuff. I have a British friend (“Hi Janet!”…inserting this just to be nice) who is a Minnesota resident and she is really rather sick of all the Minnesota niceness she endures from day to day…I think she finds it nauseating, heck, I’m sure her stomach churns when she meets with me (hmmm…she does carry a big purse when we meet–probably has a barf bag in it that she uses when I slip to the restroom). She loves the New York, “say it like you mean it” approach–forthright and straight-up. In chatting with her about it, my only thought is that Minnesotans are probably just better versed in the fruits of the spirit than others…you know: patience, kindness, gentleness, self-control, peace, etc. Now this is all said tongue in cheek…or is it? Wow! Maybe this means we’re not only nicer but holier than other states…like the ring of that. Could be why Chicago cast-offs head to Minneapolis looking for a better life…we emit more light, we’re more beacon-esque than most other cities, hope is a reality in the Minneapple.

Ok, ok, you’re sick of hearing this and seriously, is this really where I see God in Minnesota? Well, I can’t say for sure and then there is the fact that our culture is ever changing with the influx of immigrants and the forever mixing of the American melting pot as people relocate umpteen times throughout their lifespan. We’re a people like all others, the cultural boundaries are getting blurry as we swirl in close connections with our neighbors all over the globe. Isolation creates and promotes individual cultures and languages…all that is exiting out the back door with the Internet, cell phones and mass media.

Oh, yeah, back to Minnesota nice…I think it could only come from a gentle, patient heart–at least that is my experience having swum in these waters all my life. Brusque New York sorts may see it as “stuff true feelings, fake it and be nice” niceness, or stemming from a passive-aggressive mindset, but that is because that is what it would be if they were being nice. Minnesotans are not closet New Yorkers trying to be nice, we’re gentle folk who, by and large, see that being ‘nice’ is a way to make room for one another, a way to interact in a way that doesn’t offend or off put, helps provide a safe place where judgment is shelved and boundaries are respected.

There is always a dark side to cultural characteristics and I suppose niceness could be a hideout for not being real, for not creating close intimate relationships, for keeping things superficial. Kind of an American 1950’s modus operandi, Leave It to Beaver model. Yes, that would be a dark side, alright…a big one, and probably one we should self reflect on long enough to see if it is real. Lift the individual and collective veil and see what lurks below…

Well, if it is true and niceness keeps us from being intimate and/or authentic, I don’t think we have to throw the baby out with the bathwater. I think we can lift the veil, seek and find God’s healing and be authentic, intimate and nice…

I don’t know, but it seems to me Jesus smiles when people are nice, hence Jesus smiles at Minnesotans…really like the sound of that :-)


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