Mutual Admiration Societies

A few years ago, I attended a theological conference for women hosted by Veritas Church. The conference was excellent, and one of the things that struck me most was the discussion of “flattery.” Most of us have heard, “a flattering mouth works ruin,” but I can honestly say I had never given that passage much consideration. I guess I had assumed it was in reference to sleazy salesmen types–those who are obviously buttering you up so they can sell you something. I had never considered an application that might deal with my own personal relationships with friends, family, and other acquaintances.

One of the most powerful things the speaker talked about was the danger of living in a “Mutual Admiration Society.” It’s very easy, especially as women, to surround ourselves with an entourage of flatterers.

I like your shoes. I like your hair. You look skinny; have you lost weight?

Not terrible things to say to someone, really. I mean, it’s nice, right? We all like affirmation, and we all like compliments. And some women desperately need to be encouraged. But if this becomes our world, if all we ever do is surround ourselves with people who will stroke our pride while we stroke theirs, that’s bad. And if we find ourselves constantly offering compliments to others in order to acquire or retain someone’s gratitude or favor, is that true friendship? If we’re constantly tossing out compliments in hopes of getting one back, is that really the right reason for complimenting someone?

The danger, of course, in this sort of thing is that we can become more and more detached from reality and instead find ourselves in a world where nobody challenges us, nobody disagrees with us, nobody does things differently than we do, nobody is truly honest.  If our friendships are so fickle that they require constant compliments in order to survive, we ought to question the authenticity of those friendships.

If we surround ourselves with people who are just like we are, we never have to grow up. We can just sit around complimenting one another (and perhaps talking trash about others who aren’t like us) all our lives. And we can start to feel very secure in doing so, because everyone else (at least in our little world) is doing it, too.

But this isn’t the sort of life or friendships we should want or seek out. We should seek out people who hold us accountable for our actions, who challenge us when we say questionable things, who are striving to grow up alongside us, who push us to better places rather than allowing us to be lazy and content in what may at best be mediocre.

We all need friends who will love us whether or not it’s the easy thing to do, and the “Mutual Admiration Society” doesn’t allow for this.

It is particularly important as females that we learn to relate to one another in ways that allow for objectivity, as it is our tendency to react more subjectively or emotionally to just about everything. We can learn to do this by demanding more of our friendships and everyday interactions–by holding one another accountable for our words and our reactions to words, especially during “girl time.”

Acting and reacting relationally comes naturally to us women, but we ought not allow ourselves to react at the expense of rationality. We need to learn to separate our experience and gut reactions from fact and to know the difference. However, our culture and especially the women in our culture have created an expectation of affirmation and acceptance that assumes any dissent a personal attack, which means disagreement nearly immediately means hurt feelings. And it is this kind of mindset that often traps women and keeps them from discussing anything that might be divisive. We play it “safe” more often than not, because we fear the consequences of irrationality rather than demanding that irrationality not be accepted in our company. This, of course, is not to say there’s no value in a “woman’s intuition”–just that we ought to know the difference between a feeling and a fact and the place of each in our discussions and decisions.

Real friendship is difficult, and it sometimes involves hard words, challenging words, painful words, spoken in love. It involves the crushing of pride for all parties involved. It involves forgiving and being forgiven. It means making a point of having meaningful conversations that encourage maturity rather than a constant exchange of empty words or flattery. And it involves building one another up in what is really good, true, and beautiful, rather than accepting the status quo.

What are some important lessons you’ve learned about friendship?

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Beka Johnson
Beka Johnson

Beka is the Director of Inbound Marketing for a fintech company in the Seattle area. She loves dabbling, reading, scheming, writing, and dreaming up ways to make good things better. When she’s not working, you can find her digging up all sorts of adventures in her new city.

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