Insincere Flattery

“Flattery is a form of hatred and wounds cruelly.”

32723372 - close up of crossed fingers behind a woman's back

Little White Lies.

I’ve told them more times than I can remember, often without giving them much thought. What a blunder.

I suppose I believed that speaking flattering words without really meaning them is harmless, especially if I believed it was kinder than the truth. Or maybe it was just easier  – or, as likely, perhaps it was motivated by self-interest, such as wanting to be liked.

At least one study shows that Americans are increasingly comfortable with telling “little white lies” – including insincere flattery. “‘It’s not that easy to be honest,’ concedes Sharon K. Stoll, director of the Center for Ethics at the University of Idaho… we have to understand that a rigid code of complete honesty will make you an individual nobody wants to be around.” (see, “Americans are increasingly comfortable with many white lies, new poll reveals: Findings reveal a morally fractured America where honesty is not one-size-fits-all,” Deseret News In-Depth, by Jennifer Graham, March 27, 2018) So it’s understandable that insincere flattery motivated by a desire to make someone feel better about themselves or to be liked would be tempting.

But insincere flattery is a lie – no matter what we want to call it, no matter what our motivation, and no matter how harmless it may appear on the surface.

The Bible teaches us that lies are unacceptable to God. As a lie, insincere flattery is offensive to God also: “Flattery is a form of hatred and wounds cruelly.” (Proverbs 26:28)

People who flatter others insincerely are harming themselves and doing harm to others. When we flatter others insincerely, we are committing a sin. Insincere flattery can be manipulative, it can create a distorted self-concept, and it can promote self-deception. It also erodes our ability to trust one another, it undermines our integrity, and it makes the truth suspect when we speak it.

But perhaps more importantly, insincere flattery injures and erodes honesty in general. It assaults and compromises the very idea of it.

And in assaulting and compromising honesty, we assault our God and jeopardize our relationship with Him. For God is truth, as is Jesus.

“Jesus told him, ‘I am the Way – yes, and the Truth and the Life. No one can get to the Father except by means of me. If you had known who I am then you would have known who my Father is. From now on you know him – and have seen him!” (John 14:6-7)

Rather than flatter someone insincerely, I believe the Bible teaches us to be truthful and kind at the same time. We can use discretion in our conversations with others as long as we do not mislead or deceive, especially in circumstances where the truth may be hurtful. Alternatively, we can remain silent.

Photo by Rui Santos

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