I’m from the South (and rather proud of it).
And in the South there is a real phenomenon called “southern hospitality.”
Basically it means we will cook you the best fried food you’ve ever put in your mouth, pull over to help you change a tire even if we don’t know you, and say “yes ma’am” or “bless your heart” to every person we meet.
It also means we have a tendency to overpraise. We want people to feel good about themselves so if we’re not careful we can overblow reality in an attempt to make them like us.
It sure seems nice, but not very healthy.
Proverbs said, “Those who flatter their neighbors are spreading nets for their feet” (Pro 29:5 NIV).
Let me give an example.
Recently, I was planning a meeting with the leadership team at our church. There was one particular volunteer who works incredibly hard and I wanted to express how grateful we were for their contribution. I mean I really, deeply wanted them to know thankful we were.
My planned remarks went something like this: “We are so very thankful for all your hard work. We could not imagine doing this without. If it wasn’t for your contribution, Sundays simply would not happen.”
And then the Holy Ghost reprimanded me.
The goal was to thank them for their contribution.
But I was headed toward flattery.
The truth is, as valuable as this person was, we could do Sundays without them. We certainly wouldn’t want to because we love and value them… but we could.
So why would I tell them we couldn’t?
Because of a proclivity toward flattery.
I’ve seen these situations happen over and over again where the person who was flattered starts believing their own press.
“You know, they’re right. They can’t do this without me. If it wasn’t for me, the whole think would collapse.”
At this point we have a problem. And it all began because we did not resist the temptation to flatter someone.
Flattery is overly effusive praise. And Proverbs said it is a net for their feet.
In other words, it’s a trap.
When we flatter people, just like a net, they can get caught up in it. We all have to make sure we don’t drink our own kool-aid.
Praise and encouragement should be dished out liberally; pour it on as much as you want.
Just make sure it’s connected to reality and actual accomplishment.
I’ve watched the church world tell people who could not sing what great singers they were. Or preachers who could not preach what great communicators they were.
That is not Christian kindness, or love, or honor.
It is flattery, because it is separated from fact.
When we receive praise we did not earn, it kills motivation to get better. If everyone already thinks I’m a great communicator, then why would I work harder at it?
No. We need some people in our lives who will love us and give us a realistic assessment of both our strengths and weaknesses.
If we surround ourselves we people who flatter us, we are headed for destruction.
This is a tendency we must fight against as we raise our children. For example, my daughters are both enrolled in gymnastics. My heart leaps watching them in their outfits saunter across the mat and attempt different techniques.
To me, they are the greatest to ever grace the sport.
But are they really the greatest gymnasts ever? Of course not.
So when I commend them for their hard work in gymnastics, it’s important that I praise their efforts and how they are doing so good and improving. But I have to resist overblowing it and telling them they are the most fantastic ever (even though I still think they are 🙂
If I tell them of all their amazing traits – separated from actual accomplishment – then there is no legitimacy to my praise.
In fact, I am spreading a net for their feet.
Let’s pour on the praise and encouragement in bucketloads.
And let’s make sure it’s grounded in truth.
It is so much more meaningful that way.