Friendship is a powerful concept in human social existence. Man’s communion with his fellow beings on a long term, semi permanent or permanent basis was the primary social activity which distinguished men from other animals. While animals did have bonds with fellow beings, these were either too temporary or based on the physical needs of hunting for food, lust or procreation. Man appeared to be the only being who bonded with his fellows for social and intellectual fulfillment. This concept led to fostering friendship as the ultimate form of human coexistence some say even higher than marital relationship.
Friendship has been the theme of many a folk lore and story throughout history. However the close bonds of friendship also results in a sense of false loyalty when friends lie to and about each other. In such cases the central premise of friendship is continuity of attachment rather than a true sentiment of self fulfillment and growth. Flattery is the tool that is used to sustain friendship and enhance friends self esteem. However this is morally a vacuous concept which causes more harm in the long run than good to friendship.
The Religious View of Flattery being Unethical The concept of Adab in Islam very effectively connects lying with ethics. (Keller. 2001). It is said that a man should keep speaking the truth till the very end of his life which will lead to paradise, while lying will direct him to hell. (Keller. 2001). The concept of heaven and hell has been used in religion to simplistically state the path of righteousness to the common man who can be easily motivated through an aspirational objective such as heaven and avoiding an ulterior place as hell.
Adab also covers instances when it may be ethical to lie such as when making up between two people, to an enemy in war or to a wife to increase here contentedness. (Keller. 2001). The justification given for these cases is that war is deception and settling trouble between people may be for the overall good. However it categorically states that it is unlawful (unethical) to praise or blame another with an untruth. (Keller. 2001). Objective is said to denote the ethics of falsehood. Thus if the objective is permissible in common human interaction, the falsehood is also acceptable.
In the case of the example of flattery the objective is to raise the self esteem of the friend; however this is only a temporary boosting of the ego through a falsehood which will last for a very short period. Thus it cannot be considered as ethical for it is giving a misleading impression to the friend, which is like telling an outright lie. (Keller. 2001). Buddhism has also provided some guidance on conscious lying, which is denoted by flattery indulged in with a friend. (Derrett, nd). A privileged lie is one where it is so common that no excuse for it is expected.
It is said to be privileged only where it is commonly excused or where it is generally reprehended. A lie to a friend merely to boost his ego would fall in the category of privileged lying. Thus when lies deceive and when the victim has a ground to complaint, they cannot be excused. In the case of friendship, flattery is deception and later the friend will have a genuine grouse as it would have only led him to harm despite having boosted his ego for a short while. For there are very few cynics who are impervious to flattery and especially a friend is not expected to flatter to deceive.
Thus by subjecting a friend to deceit, lying cannot be excused. Lying is considered particularly venal in Buddhism when it operates to the hearers disadvantage and the hearer suspects it to be false but is led to believing it to be true. Telling a woman that she is most beautiful women, may lead her to believe it for a short period even well knowing that it is false. Similarly a friend will be pursued into believing that he is good or the best by mere flattery, though he may know in his heart or hearts that it is not the whole truth.
Such lies have been classified in Buddhism as those that operate to the hearers advantage or raise his or her self esteem, but which cannot be accepted ethically. Equivocation is also considered as unethical in the Buddhist religion. The utilitarian view is also considered unethical and the Buddhist believes that there are no privileged lies which amount to privileged pilfering. Analogy of Doctor Patient Relationship The concept of flattery and falsehood to preserve friendship can be explained with the analogy of relationship between the doctor and the patient.
A doctor is bounden by his duties to saving the life of his patients by doing the right thing. A doctor also has to preserve his patients’ confidence to ensure a lasting relationship. There are many times when the doctor has to tell the patient a bitter truth about his illness or about his personal conduct and behavior which may not be flattering. A doctor is faced with a dilemma of breaking his patients’ confidence as against telling him a falsehood to sustain that confidence but which may lead to ultimate harm to the patient.
A doctor true to the profession would not flinch against telling a patient the bitter truth. (Garlikov, nd). An ethical doctor as portrayed in the television serial, “House” is one who follows conventions which are right and benefit his patients. The doctor in the serial did not follow rules because they have been made so but since they are ethically correct. The doctor followed rules as he practiced real ethics and not just to blindly follow regulations or the tradition of Hippocrates. This is the difference between real and professional ethics. Garlikov, nd). The really ethical person is not afraid of being rude or impolite but he is not mean or cruel. He does not use false praise or flattery to foster self esteem. There is also a need to understand that being sensitive to a patient or a friend does not imply that you are being artificially delicate or sweet to him even when it is false or contrived. (Garlikov, nd). A friendship can also be compared to a doctor patient relationship, where a friend is an emotional and/or social, professional guide to a person.
In order to fulfill this role, a friend has to be totally truthful and flattery cannot be accepted in such a relationship from the ethical point of view as it would cause more harm than good. (Garlikov, nd). Analogy of Flattery to a Child Friendship is as delicate a relationship as that between a parent and child. However it such a natural phenomenon, that while there are many treatises on bringing up children, there are none whatsoever on how to nurture friendships. Thus an analogy from the relationship between a parent and a child would be of great utility.
From a psychological point of view, it is said that telling a child that he or she is a great person all the time will create a very strong self focus thereby drawing him or her away from reality. Success when it is validated will come about in a more holistic manner than through empty praise. This is not only psychologically harmful but is also ethically damaging to the child’s upbringing as when he realizes the truth about himself he would be tempted to follow the same unethical path of false praise to his colleagues and compatriots.
There is thus a strong psychological cum ethical link to empty praise as has been proved by the analogy of the parent child relationship applied to friendship. (Scott. 2006). Conclusion Friends telling lies about each others prowess, supplementing a false sense of power to each other in the belief that it will foster friendship has been a time worn cliche. It is unethical as is shown by varied examples above and also breeds a false sense of camaraderie which will be harmful in the long run. Thus not only ethically, false praise will be socially and psychologically harmful and thus all the more immoral.