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003 - On Friends, Not Followers - Moral Letters for Modern Times

A true friend will tell you when you are being a fool.
Mountainous coastline - Moral Letters to Lucilius
Photo by James Bellerjeau

You ask whether to congratulate the latest pop star to attract one hundred million Twitter followers. Rather offer your condolences to Justin Bieber than your praise. For followers want nothing more than to consume you, while a friend wants to see you nourished. Do not celebrate another cannibal joining the banquet when you are the main dish.

“But,” you say, “am I not made greater by the acclamation of the masses?” If wisdom is rare in individuals, even fainter is your chance of finding it among the multitude. This is because the masses are but one step removed from the mob, and the mob knows no morals. The mob knows only that it must do more of whatever it is doing at that moment. Better a single voice speaking reason, thereby calming the passions of the throng, than a stadium of spectators cheering the games along.

“But my post was upvoted a hundred times, and shared by two hundred more!” I hear you already. “Surely that demonstrates the truth of what I say.” I tell you, look at our politicians raining cash down upon a welcoming public. Should Congress take comfort in the wisdom of its course because polls show a majority approve? Say you offer guests at your next dinner party the boon of carrying away the silver plates. Surely a supermajority of them will upvote your largesse. Now just imagine schoolchildren’s universal chorus of likes when you declare candy for lunch and homework is forbidden.

The only thing such numbers tell us is that a great number of people can be greatly wrong about a great many things.

A true friend will tell you when you are being a fool. A true friend will risk your ire in not praising that which is not praiseworthy. You do not need a thousand to point out your flaws. A single friend will do, if they truly know you and if you listen truly.

And better the heartfelt praise of a single one who knows you, than the thunderous applause of thousands who are blind.

Be well.

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