Short of admitting to a heinous crime, is there anything you can post on Facebook that won’t be met with approval from your friends?
Every day I see people post terrible ideas, ridiculous claims, and admissions of destructive behavior, self-directed or otherwise, and — without fail — their friends pile on with positive comments telling them how right the person is, or how proud they are for whatever it is they’re saying. I know these people are trying to be supportive and they think they are being good friends for doing so, but are they? I would argue that not only are they not helping but in many cases they are hurting their friends with their fawning.
I think it’s time we redefine what it means to be supportive. Support does not equal sycophancy. A “like” is not support.
Real support is honest and serves a purpose greater than making the receiver feel good. Real support is like medicine: It often carries a bitter taste but it’s better for you in the long run. And real support sometimes means telling a friend their ideas and plans are stupid.
Contrary to popular belief, sycophancy is not just harmless flattery. Think about the Silicon Valley echo chamber. How many bad business ideas have been pursued because blindly supportive friends kept telling someone it was a great concept? How many millions of dollars have been wasted because everyone was afraid to point out that the emperor had no clothes? In the big picture, consider what ambitious endeavors Valley entrepreneurs might be pursuing if their friends had had the guts to tell them what they really thought about monthly underwear delivery or some similarly bad idea.
Because of the higher levels of personal and financial risks they take, entrepreneurs more than anyone need honest feedback. Telling an entrepreneur the hard truth early can mean the difference between success and blowing through their life savings. Blindly supporting them with hollow words of encouragement will never make their bad business good.
On a personal level, all of this adulatory behavior from well meaning friends contributes to making people arrogant and entitled. If everyone around you is constantly singing your praises, how long does it take before you start believing your own hype? For most people, not that long.
This problem is especially acute in the world of social media. Before social media, the average person had a small circle of friends and fairly limited interactions with other people. They had neither the platform nor mechanism to receive any kind of personal feedback. Now anyone with a minor level of popularity on Facebook can, and most likely does, receive daily affirmations of how cool, smart, right, or influential they are. In short order, many of these people come to believe they have valuable insights or that they are significant in some way when the only thing they’ve done is fostered a circle of friends who think providing a stream of unconditional compliments is the same thing as being supportive.
Again, you might think this is innocuous ego building, but real damage can happen when reality doesn’t match up with people’s unjustifiably inflated self images. Books get written that nobody reads, businesses get started that nobody buys from, advice gets dispensed that nobody heeds — and probably nobody should heed —, and people end up crushed by expectations of grandeur that are never met.
To be fair, the blame shouldn’t fall solely on our eager-to-please friends. Ultimately we decide who we surround ourselves with and what we want to hear. If we want to hear the truth then we need to show ourselves to be the kind of people who welcome unflattering feedback.
Unfortunately, most people will tell you they want you to be honest but become upset if your answer isn’t what they want to hear. For them, the sting is a little too sharp to take.
If you really want people to be honest with you, then you must first answer this question about yourself: Do you want to hear the truth or do you just want to feel good?
Despite frequent claims to the contrary, the vast majority of people, even entrepreneurs, happily sacrifice the truth in order to feel good — and thus will continue to suffer the negative consequences of their blindly supportive friends.