By J.R. Miller
"You know we never used flattery!" 1 Thessalonians 2:5
"A lying tongue hates those it hurts, and a flattering mouth works ruin!" Proverbs 26:28
"He who rebukes a man will in the end gain more favor than he who has a flattering tongue!" Proverbs 28:23
"Whoever flatters his neighbor is spreading a net for his feet!" Proverbs 29:5
"Everyone lies to his neighbor; their flattering lips speak with deception. May the Lord cut off all flattering lips and every boastful tongue!" Psalms 12:2-3
"Beware of the flatterer!" John Bunyan
An English writer has some good words about flattery. They are suggested by a character in a recent story. It is that of an old woman who was clever--but very disagreeable. One of her friends said to her that she ought to be more gracious and to give amiability a trial in her life. She was conscience stricken and confused as she thought of herself. "I'm a beast of an old woman!" she said. "I can be agreeable if I choose; nobody more so." "Then why not choose to be so?" it was suggested. So she tried the experiment and was greatly encouraged. Her amiability gave pleasure to her friends--and she kept it up.
But she was not always wise in her new role of amiability. For instance, she fell into the habit of flattery, thinking that in this way she could please people. On every occasion she practiced this new art with assiduity. The result was not always felicitous, however. Too often she would so overdo her praise of people--that its insincerity became apparent. Even the vainest people were made aware, by the extravagance of her words, that she was only playing with them, and the effect was not to please--but to offend. She would break out in enthusiasm over a friend's bonnet or dress. She would go into paroxysms of mirth over the retelling by another friend of some old story or of some threadbare bit of humor. She would tell some old, withered woman, how fresh and young she looked--like a young girl in her teens. So the good woman's excessive efforts at amiability, had the effect of sarcasm upon those she supposed she was pleasing!
There are many people who fall into the same mistake. It is a quite common opinion that almost everyone is susceptible to the influence of flattery. There are different ways of flattering.
There are some who are so extravagant in their expressions, that none but the very vain and silly take their words seriously and are pleased by what they say. They flatter everyone, on every occasion! They go into ecstasy over everything you do or say. They lose no opportunity in your presence of saying complimentary things about you. But there is no discrimination in their effusive talk, which is as fluent over most trivial things--as over the most important. Besides, it lacks the note of sincerity. They only proclaim the shallowness of their own hearts--and their lack of sense in supposing that they can deceive people into believing that they mean what they say.
There are others who flatter and yet do it in a much wiser, more delicate, and less effusive and objectionable way. They watch for opportunities to pay compliments, and say things which will please those to whom they are speaking. They exaggerate the good qualities which they commend, or the worthy acts which they praise. They repeat the kind things they have heard said about their friends.
Their motive in all this is to get the good opinion of those they laud. But, really, in just so far as it is insincere, such complimenting is unwise in friendship. Even those who are in a way pleased by such praise for the moment--are in the end offended by it. There is an instinct in every man who is not hopelessly self-conceited which tells him when the words of commendation he hears are sincerely spoken--and when they are only empty words.
In every phase and form, flattery is despicable! On the whole, too, it fails to deceive, and, therefore, fails to please. It is resented by every worthy person--and weakens, rather than strengthens friendship.
The moment one who claims to be our friend utters anything which we know to be an exaggeration of his interest in us, his regard for us, or his opinion of us or of something we have done--he has hurt himself with us. Friendship needs no flattery in its professions or in its fellowship. Friendship must be thoroughly sincere in all its expressions. Insincerity in any form, or in any smallest measure--is a kind of disloyalty against which every true heart instinctively revolts.
Yet there are people who have become so used to adulation that they cannot be happy without it. They expect everyone to say complimentary things to them and of them. They have lived so long and so entirely in an atmosphere of approbation, that any speech which lacks this quality seems tame and cold to them.
Flattery is a danger to which women are more exposed to, than men. Everybody tries to say complimentary things to women. Men are more likely to hear the bare truth about themselves, even though ofttimes it is disagreeable. In school, and on the playground, boys are in the habit of speaking out bluntly and frankly to each other, not asking or thinking whether the words will give pleasure or pain. It is very rarely that a boy hears flattery, unless it is from his gentle mother, who sees everything in him from love's point of view.
In college and university life, young men are not encouraged to think more highly of themselves than the facts of their character and conduct warrant them to think. Their faults are ofttimes mercilessly exposed. Men get some of their best lessons, too, from the brusqueness of their fellows. At the time they do not like it--may even think it almost brutal--but it helps to make men of them. When college students win compliments and praise from their fellows, it must be for something worthy, almost heroic. They are not in great danger of being spoiled by flattery.
But with women it is altogether different. Even as little girls, they are petted and praised by everyone. They grow up in a hot-house atmosphere of appreciation. Too often they are trained to expect complimenting on all occasions, wherever they go, whatever they do. They are dressed by their mothers with a view to admiration, and it is regarded as the proper thing for everybody who sees them to go into a measure of rapture over their 'lovely appearance'. Their early attainments and achievements are always praised, sometimes in exaggerated fashion.
As they grow older it is the same. In girls' colleges the freshmen are "hazed" with flowers and suppers. Men of all ages vie with each other in showing gallantry to women. Any exhibition of rudeness to them is regarded as unpardonable. They are always listening to compliments, which sometimes verge on flattery. The wonder is--that so many women, brought up in such an atmosphere, escape unhurt in their life and character--and maintain the sweetness, the simplicity, the humility, the thoughtfulness, and the gentleness, which are among the highest qualities in ideal womanliness. That more are not spoiled by the continual adulation which they receive, and are taught to expect--is another proof of the innate nobleness of woman's nature.
It must be admitted that the influence of such a training upon the character and disposition is not strengthening, and does not tend to develop the best things in the life. We all need opposition and antagonism to make us strong and to bring out the graces and virtues in us. The girls who do not live in an atmosphere of flattery--but who are subject to more or less criticism, find their compensation in the greater self-knowledge which they acquire.
There is a genuine appreciation of others and of what they say and do--which is not only proper--but is a bounden duty. It is right to express our admiration for what pleases us in others. In this case, the motive is not to receive compliments in return, nor to gain favor and influence--but to give cheer and encouragement. Paul tells us that we should please our neighbor for his good to edification.
A child is striving earnestly to master some art or science--but he is disheartened, for he is not succeeding. Nothing will do him so much good--as a word of appreciation and confidence, a word of encouragement, which will spur him to do his best. If he hears only fault-finding and criticism, he may lose heart altogether and give up. But when he learns that someone trusts him, and expects him to succeed--he receives new inspiration which makes him stronger to go on with his striving.
There is a great lack of just this proper and wholesome spirit of appreciation and genuine encouragement. Many times life is made a great deal harder for people--by the lack of kind words. Thousands live faithfully and work hard at their commonplace tasks, day after day, year after year--and yet never hear a single sentence which tells them of any human interest in them or in their work.
This is so in many homes where it might be supposed that the law of love is most faithfully observed. Scarcely ever is a heartening word spoken by one to another. If all in the household would form the habit of giving an expression to the loving appreciation which is in their hearts, it would soon transform the home life.
The same lack prevails, too, everywhere. Many men sink under their burdens or faint in their battles, because no one ever thinks to express the kindly interest and appreciation which are in his heart. One of the best services anyone can render to his fellows--is always to be an encourager. How rarely do we say the hearty word of cheer which would warm the blood and make it tingle! We should miss no opportunity to say kindly and encouraging things to all about us. Life is hard enough for many people at the best, and we should be glad to make it easier when we may, and we can make it easier for all about us by showing genuine appreciation. What really helps people and makes them braver and stronger is not flattery--but kindness, which is bread of life to hungry hearts.