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Reflection: The Backstabbers

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Proverbs 29:5 NIV:

5 Those who flatter their neighbors
are spreading nets for their feet.

I will be honest: I have never liked the “trust no-one” message.

It will always find an amen corner because we’ve all been betrayed.

But I feel like it places me on a pedestal I don’t deserve.

It allows me to focus on your behavior and not mine.

Highlighting other people’s heart problems can bypass the hard work of self-examination and love. If it's all I do, or most of what I do, or what I do FIRST, it exempts me from having to go to God to check myself, and to seek grace for dealing with difficult people.

That said, jealous people, and disingenuous communication are a fact of life.

They are on the job. Workplaces can be places of healthy collaboration that reward hard work. They can also be brutal battlefields where people who see you as competition commit to your destruction. Some people are not nearly as good at their job as they are at manipulation and instigation. They are less professionals than professional snipers. And sadly, in the short term at least, and sometimes for distressingly long terms, these tactics win. The person who butters you up today, may be looking to cook and devour you tonight.

They are in our schools. The teenage years are a clinic in betrayal. Adolescents can be spectacularly cruel. The archetypal “mean girl” is somewhere between 12 and 17. The fact that some of us continue to imitate them for life is a bonus. The “friend” who flatters you may be luring you into a trap.

They are in our families: Family, for most of us, offers the longest, most foundational relationships in our lives. They can be our fiercest defenders and closest confidants. They can also be the people who’ve been jealous of us the longest. Unresolved family conflict can cause a lifetime of hurt.

They follow us online: Some people follow you because they like you. Some people value your contributions to the world. Others are dedicated hate -watchers. They may feel appointed to police you. They may want to counteract your message. They may just want to ruin your day. But some of them will do it with a smile. They will pretend to be your friend and show up looking to ruin every event. In tribalized times, we will all have motivated enemies. We all have a “no amen corner.” Some are just slicker than others.

They are in our neighborhoods: Sometimes a compliment is genuine. Sometimes the correct response is “thank you.” That said, it’s not always a comfortable feeling when people who don’t have something start telling you how nice yours is. It’s worth paying attention when someone near you knows too much about your car, or your shoes, or, for that matter, your spouse. The person who reveals that they study your habits can raise some red flags. Sometimes the flattery contains the threat.

So how do we respond?

Jesus said be wise as a serpent and harmless as a dove.

Just because we know a coworker is insincere, doesn’t mean we need to fight them in the break room.

Some words of insincere flattery need checking.

Some need ignoring.

Some demand a raised eyebrow.

Others demand a home security system.

Our consistency may convict the insincere person.

It may inspire others who witness these moments.

The book of Proverbs repeatedly calls us to exercise wisdom in the face of predatory people.

And some of that wisdom may involve the good sense not to stoop to match nonsense.

You can kill an ugly spirit with kindness.

It is possible to love the hell _out_ of them.

Having said that, I also take an additional meaning from this text: Don’t believe the hype.

The most dangerous place for the nets of flattery to take hold is in our hearts.

Even people who flatter us with benign motives are inadvertently endangering us if they allow us to gas _ourselves_ up.

And this becomes a question of how you encourage someone.

Some people need words of affirmation to pick them up.

Some people need words of grounding to keep from blowing up.

If your particular affliction is delusions of grandeur, your friend who tells you you’re better than everybody else may goad you into unwise decisions.

If you suffer from narcissistic tendencies, the person who boasts of your greatness may embolden you to mistreat other people.

You can get stabbed in the back, and initially not feel it.

You can get stabbed in the front, and be too high to notice.

But both of these attacks can kill you.

So know your friends and know yourself.

Know your surroundings and your vulnerabilities.

And try not to get stabbed at all.

(Photo Credit: KoolShooters)

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