4 And Amalickiah was desirous to be a king; and those people who were wroth were also desirous that he should be their king; and they were the greater part of them the lower judges of the land, and they were seeking for power.
5 And they had been led by the flatteries of Amalickiah, that if they would support him and establish him to be their king that he would make them rulers over the people. (Alma 46:4-5)
This bit about Amalickiah flattering the lower judges struck me recently after I had gone in for jury duty and seen some of the court proceedings involved. The point that suddenly stuck out to me in the above verses was that these lower judges were there to settle petty disputes in particular regions. Cases they could not settle would have to be sent to higher judges.
So here we essentially have a group of judges who were aspiring for position beyond their expertise, hoping to acquire it by appointment rather than by gradual accumulation of experience and skill. By promising them future ruling positions, Amalickiah implicitly flattered them into thinking they were ready for the big time, ready to deal with the hard cases when they most likely weren’t. But in their unprepared state, they would have made a mess of the Nephite justice system.
I think this tells us something about flattery. It is the voice that suggests we possess skills we don’t really have and are ready for greater responsibility when we really aren’t. Those who follow the flattery and pursue where the rewards aren’t deserved are set up for humiliating, soul-destroying failure. That’s what Satan wants. He wants to humiliate and crush us by using our ambitions and aspirations against us. Flattery is how he starts that, so we have to watch out for flattery.
Here’s a question for you to think about—in the context of the above, what do you think is the spiritual difference between humility and humiliation?
Also connected with this, I want to say a word about the dangers of “awesome” as an overused compliment when we want to say we approve in some manner.
The problem is when messaging of “you are awesome” is thrown around, it becomes increasingly easy to internalize it and believe that not only was the performance awesome, but oneself is awesome in every way, and there is no need for repentance or improvement. In short, it is too easy for it to feed vanity and pride.
For us to see past this messaging, we need to have a pretty conscious awareness of all the ways we still need to improve, and we have to have a clear-eyed view of what good was actually done that brought out the approval or admiration. But if we don’t have that in the first place, how are we to get it without more detailed feedback? When we need real encouragement, detailed proportionate praise is much more useful.
Suppose I do my duty and then someone tells me I am awesome. How can I take that at face value? I know I did just my duty. Am I to understand that doing one’s duty is so rarely seen that it must be commented on and praised? I sure hope not. But if doing one’s duty is widespread, then how were my actions extraordinary? I have no way of knowing unless more detailed feedback is given. It would be much more in proportion and helpful to say, “It makes me happy to see you do your duty” or “You’re doing a good job” or even “You’ve been diligent.”
“You are awesome” may seem like a harmless verbal tic of a compliment, but when we remember Nephite history and the trouble that flattering words caused by leading people astray, we see the long-term effects. Consider that pride ultimately was what led to the Nephites’ final destruction, and then these overstated compliments and affirmations can be seen for what they are—a gateway drug.
Since it is likely that this trend of overstating the awesome will not end soon, we need to be aware of it and put in place mental safeguards to keep perspective. We can remind ourselves we are doing our duty. We can remember that we or others may not be in the best position to judge our performance; if it were looked at more closely it might be barely adequate instead of “awesome.” We can remind ourselves that others may be gushing or flattering us.
So don’t reflexively call people awesome. Use your creativity and fashion more precise ways to express your approval and compliments. Your words will actually mean more to people.