Flattery & Being a Good Friend

One of the essential qualities of a good friend is that they are honest. But, it is a particular kind of honesty, an honesty that respects our integrity and dignity as fellow human beings. Meaning, being prepared to say something that hurts, but not because it hurts.

Yet one of the hallmarks of our society is that it is awash in flattery, filled with people who will always be willing to tell us what we want to hear, not what we need to hear. There will always be people who will say our painting expresses next generation avant-garde art. Or that dress really does look supremely slimming on us. Or that it was entirely our ex’s fault that we broke up.

But being a good friend is not about telling your friend what they want to hear. While we might think we are being kind, there is nothing further from the truth. For it is the highest form of unkindness to withhold the truth from someone you consider your friend. To be a good friend is not about saying nice things, but about providing insights. It is often a delicate trapeze to walk.

Being a good friend involves providing sometimes unpalatable truths someone might not be able to tell themselves. It is about confrontation but also comfort. There is a right and wrong way to go about these things. We must hold two ideas simultaneously in our minds: to tell someone things that may be painful, while also trying our best to not intentionally hurt.

Being a good friend requires insight rather than compliments. Medicine might taste disgusting, and cake may taste delicious, but only one is good for us; and it is dangerous to mistake something pleasurable for something healthy. The good friend administers insight, that medicine for the soul, knowing full well that while it may hurt or leave a bitter taste in the mouth, it is, at the end of the day, only because they have their friend’s best interests at heart.

Being a good friend entails using words in a very particular way. Our words are most powerful not when they fool someone into feeling good for the moment, but when they can show someone important truths they might not realise themselves. This turns on the most important feature of our language: words can clarify or obscure the truth.

If being a friend involves compassion, honesty, trust, and respect, than there is no higher form of friendship than telling your friend what they need to hear, even if it isn’t what they want to hear. When done with appropriate skill and finesse, there is no greater compliment to someone than telling them what they need to hear, even it doesn’t sound so nice. One could only hope that in doing this, in the future, your friends will have the necessary confidence to do the same for you.

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