Tangent: Friends and Flatterers
During lunch, my children and I have been listening to Stephen West’s “Philosophize This!” podcast. Recently we heard about Plutarch’s distinction between friends and flatterers. A friend, Plutarch (via Stephen West) says, is someone who will tell you the truth even if it’s not something you want to hear. They bank on the relationship being strong enough to stand up to the challenge of pissing you off because that’s what friendship is: a relationship that can withstand the challenge of honesty.
A flatterer, on the other hand, is someone who agrees with you no matter what to give the illusion of friendship. This is someone for whom the genuine strength of the relationship is less important than what they can get out of the relationship, be it emotional validation, financial gain, or just not being fired from the president’s Cabinet.
Plutarch suggests that you can tell if someone is a friend or a flatterer by testing the relationship. This rings true to me. All of the people I consider friends are people to whom I’ve made strident and/or boneheaded comments. They call me on it, we work through it, and our friendship is stronger for the challenge. At least it is from my side of things, but you’d have to ask them to know if they agree.
But isn’t there something between “friend” and “flatterer,” some stage of acquaintance that might or might not become either friendship or flattery? If so, how does one tell when a relationship has become a friendship or not?
Is brutal honesty from the outset a valid and efficient method of screening potential friends, or could it sabotage a nascent friendship that might have weathered the test after a foundation of mutual respect had been established? Not that it’s good to prevaricate, but maybe there’s a time in the development of a friendship when diplomacy is necessary just to get the relationship over the first hurdle. But then, how would you know you’ve gotten past that first hurdle without testing it?
Wondering what this is all about? Check out the introductory post.