Flattery is Reprehensible
It should be remembered that encouragement and appreciation, with all their beneficial and revolutionary results, have certain reasonable and logical limits beyond which they must not go. For, in the same way as indifference to the positive and constructive actions of individuals is an obstacle to the growth of talents and capacities, exaggerated praise and admiration, too, which amount to flattery and sycophancy, are harmful and reprehensible, for they involve a kind of departure from reality.
Dale Carnegie writes:
Of course, flattery seldom works with discerning people. It is shallow, selfish, and insincere. It ought to fail and it usually does ...
In the long run, flattery will do you more harm than good. Flattery is counterfeit, and like counterfeit money, it will eventually get you into trouble if you try to pass it. The difference between appreciation and flattery? What is simpler? One is sincere and the other insincere. One comes from the heart out; the other from the teeth out. One is unselfish; the other selfish. One is universally admired; the other is universally condemned. I recently saw a bust of General Obregon in the Chapultepec Palace in Mexico City. Below the bust are carved these wise words from General Obregon's philosophy: "Don't be afraid of the enemies who attack you. Be afraid of the friends who flatter you."
No! No! No! I am not suggesting flattery! Far from it. I'm talking about a new way of life ...
When we are not engaged in thinking about some definite problem, we usually spend about 95 percent of our time thinking about ourselves. Now, if we stop thinking about ourselves for a while and begin to think of the other man's good points, we won't have to resort to flattery so cheap and false that it can be spotted almost before it is out of the mouth. Emerson said: "Every man I met is my superior In some way. In that, I learn of him." If that was true of Emerson, isn't it likely to be a thousand times more true of you and me? Let's cease thinking of our accomplishments, our wants. Let's try to figure out the other man's good points. Then forget flattery. Give honest, sincere appreciation. 4
When 'Umar ibn 'Abd al-'Aziz, who in sharp contrast to other Umayyad caliphs was a man of some human merits, came to power and different classes of people thronged to welcome him to the throne, a man named Khalid ibn 'Abd Allah, an eminent Arab figure who was representing a group, stood up to address the general audience. He said:
O caliph and master of Muslims! For some people their honour relates to the position to which they rise in life. Their pride and prestige derive from their kingly and caliphal station. But you are the pride of the caliphate and the throne. The throne and crown are proud of you and owe their majesty and glory to your worthy self. In fact, the verse of the Arab poet befits you when he said:
If the pearl gives charm to the beautiful face and heightens its beauty, It is thy beautiful face that gives the pearl its charm. It adorns thee not, but is adorned by thy beauty!
'Abd Allah spoke in this vein eulogising the caliph with glittering verses and phrases. But the caliph was annoyed by this flattery and sycophancy. Suddenly he interrupted 'Abd Allah's panegyric and asked him to take his seat. Then, turning to the audience he remarked: "Your companion has as much of an eloquent tongue as you may wish instead of wisdom."
Flattery and sycophancy are other conspicuous defects of our present society and to a frightening extent they have penetrated many aspects of our social life. One comes across few people who express appreciation and gratitude solely for the sake of encouraging others and showing recognition for their work and with no purpose except to facilitate their progress.
An Iranian writer and social figure writes:
Little by little it has become an established law for me that everyone who comes to see me and express his admiration for my writings and works has some immediate request to make. Either he wants me to make a certain recommendation for him, or some need has prompted him to seek information through me, or he expects some other kind of help. Until now no one has paid me a visit solely for the purpose of encouraging me in my work.
Then he adds:
Truly, it is a matter of regret that whereas most well-known writers, poets and public speakers in advanced countries daily receive scores of letters from people who have no purpose in view except to express their sincere feelings of genuine appreciation and gratitude arising from admiration for their works, in Iran rarely does a writer or orator receive any appreciation that is devoid of some kind of self-interest.
4. Carnegie, How to Win Friends, Persian trans. p. 42.
Adapted from: "Ethics and Spiritual Growth" by: "Sayyid Mujtaba Musawi Lari"
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