The Danger of Flattery and the Wise Approach To It

Proverb 5 is overall about Adultery.  however, there are a lot of deeper insights that come from this verse and wider applications.

Proverbs 5:3-4: “For the lips of the adulterous woman drip honey,
    and her speech is smoother than oil;
but in the end she is bitter as gall,
    sharp as a double-edged sword.

Flattery Feels Good

We have a hard time ignoring flattery.  It hits the areas of our self-confidence that feel good.  However, that is not all it does.  We have a bias towards our life and actions.  When we hear someone praise our actions, or build us up, there is a subconscious desire to agree.  Thus, we have to argue with our inner monologue a bit in order to disarm flattery.  The whole point of flattery is to make our first response something like “exactly” or “you know it.”  Of course, we don’t like to be arrogant, but when others praise us it gives us permission to pat yourself on the back.

The Danger of Flattery

Not all complimentary words are dangerous or bad.  Nevertheless, it does tend to lessen our resolve.  No coach or motivator ever say “you are doing great, no need to try harder.”  That is because we are not able to coast.  We can push or lay back, but the middle of those actions always eludes us.  Thus, flattery tends to make us less desirable of improvement.  It tells us we are awesome so need to put in any effort to get better.

This is without acknowledging the evil intent of others.  Flattery is often used to draw us into a situation we would otherwise avoid.  This may be a bad decision like buying a product we don’t need or strengthening a relationship we should avoid.  In the context of adultery, that latter snare is the one the author is asking us to avoid.  Nevertheless, adulterous relationships are hardly the only ones that are bad for us.

Teaching Children this Wisdom

Flattery is not always a concept kids grasp.  It helps to start this imparting of wisdom with a discussion of the difference between being nice and using flattering words.  There are different motivations for flattery and those should be explored during this discussion.

The danger of flattery can be taught in your favorite game.  This works great in chess, checkers, or poker.  Any game where you have an opportunity to draw a child into making a bad decision will work.  Use flattery to goad them into making a bad play and then when the mistake becomes apparent discuss why the move was made.  Talk to them about how the words used might have impacted their decision making.  It is important to note that all positive comments are not bad, but they should be aware when someone might have ill intent.

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