"It's amazing how much people can be deceived by flattery."
Those unflattering words were spoken by an anonymous Iranian politician of the aging Iranian Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, whom Mahmoud Ahmadinejad has buttered like toast to keep his job as president. According to the June 29 Newsweek, "Khamenei supports him because he sits like a mouse in front of him and kisses his feet."
I suspect that we have all used flattery, and we have all been flattered successfully. Flattery is widely used because it works. True is the Proverb that says "A man who flatters his neighbor spreads a net for his feet" (29:5). Ask any public figure who has stumbled into the net of adultery and chances are the bait was a woman assuring him of his unsurpassed greatness (6:24), which confirmed the opinion he already secretly held of himself: "For he flatters himself in his own eyes, so that his iniquity cannot be found out and hated" (Psalm 36:2).
Flattery fells the tallest of trees; it is the most astounding phenomenon, as the Iranian politician observed. In Shakespeare's Julius Caesar, Cassius' deftness with it led Caesar like a sheep to the Senate and his death. Defusing Calpurnia's warning dream that would have kept the leader home on the ides of March, he told his lord that its troubling symbolism "signifies that from [Caesar] Rome shall suck reviving blood, and that great men shall press for tinctures, stains, relics, and cognizances." Caesar like that version better.
King Lear was brought down by the flattery of two of his three daughters. Regan's opening words in the play are too treacly to be believed by anyone but their intended target: "Sir, I love you more than word can wield the matter; dearer than eye-sight, space and liberty." But she only gets the Silver; her sister Goneril gets the Gold: "I profess myself an enemy to all other joys which the most precious square of sense possesses, and find I am alone felicitate in your dear Highness' love."
How different Jesus was. Where Caesar pushed away the offered crown "thrice, every time gentler than other" and "would fain have had it," no one was ever able to wear Jesus down. He seemed to go out of his way to not answer the Pharisees nicely. He spoiled the best parties. The anonymous Iranian told Newsweek that in his susceptibility to flattery, Ayatollah Khamenei is "like anyone who is in power for such a long time." He would better have said: "anyone but One."
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