Thursday, March 8, 2018

Flattery or Frankness?

When I hear flattery, I recall a favorite childhood memory of my father entertaining us by dramatically reciting Aesop's fable, "The Fox and the Crow," in French. Even though we didn't speak or understand French, his expressions and hand gestures made us understand every word

A crow who had stolen a piece of cheese was flying toward the top of a tree, where she hoped to enjoy it, when a fox spotted her. The wily fox came up with a plan to get that piece of cheese for his own supper.

The fox sat under the tree and in his most polite tones said, "Good day, Mistress Crow! How well you look today! Your wings are so glossy, and your breast is the breast of an eagle. And your claws--I beg your pardon--your talons are as strong as steel. I have not heard your voice, but I'm certain it must surpass that of any other bird just as your beauty does."

The vain crow believed every word the fox had spoken. She waggled her tail and flapped her wings in pleasure. She especially liked what the fox said about her voice because sometimes she had been told that her caw sounded a bit rusty.

Intending to surprise the fox with her beautiful song, she opened her beak wide. Down dropped the cheese into the clutches of the wily fox. As he walked away, licking his chops, he said to the silly crow, "The next time someone praises your beauty, be sure to hold your tongue."

The moral of this story, of course, is that flatterers are not to be trusted. And that is why, in the long run, frankness is appreciated more than flattery.

The Book of Proverbs has a lot to say about flattery:

"In the end, people appreciate honest criticism far more than flattery" (Proverbs 28:13, NLT).

"A lying tongue hates its victims, and flattery causes ruin" (Proverbs 26:28, NLT).

"Wounds from a friend are better than many kisses from an enemy" (Proverbs 27:6, NLT).

Nobody really likes criticism. It can "wound" us and make us angry. We may feel that we are being attacked personally and are being rejected, instead of just our ideas or actions.

Billy Graham was once asked how he handled criticism. He responded to the effect that he handled it the same way he reacted to praise. He evaluated it to extract the truth and ignored the rest.

Initially, flattery makes us feel good, but it can also be our downfall, just as the vain crow discovered.
This humorous fable can help us appreciate constructive criticism and grow by it but become immune to the vanity that flattery can cause.

We must learn to react graciously to criticism and take flattery with a grain of salt. In addition, we need to make sure that our words are always constructive and trustworthy, not full of flattery and deceit. As  Christians, we must learn to "speak the truth in love" (Ephesians 4:15).

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