Honey & Vinegar

It’s time for another exciting edition of “Johnny dispels a folksy truism.” Today’s entry: “You catch more flies with honey than with vinegar.”

This is wrong for two different reasons! Three, if you count the actual literal interpretation:

Credit: The wonderful Randall Munroe of xkcd.com

Funny as that is, it’s not the scientific inaccuracy I’m writing about here. I want to dispel the underlying concept. The advice embedded in the saying is this: you get more people’s attention and/or interest by being sweet than by being vitriolic.

False. Like… obviously false, for anyone who’s spent ten minutes around people.

If you want to attract a lot of attention and/or interest, acid is the way to go. Being horrible. Mean-spirited. “Controversial” is the most charitable way to say it, but it goes deeper. The people who tend to gain the most attention and interest are often very, very rotten. Most of the time they’re just tactical enough to be rotten to someone else besides the people they’re trying to attract. Demagogue politicians that constantly decry “the other,” social media influencers who pick a straw man to mock, or false prophets claiming doom and gloom is just around the corner and don’t we just deserve it.

So yeah, Senator Xenophile, Facebook Bully, and Fauxstradamus all get a lot of attention. More than the people who are just… nice. Saying things that are true, and helpful, and kind. But here’s where we get to the second thing inherently wrong with the advice.

The saying “you catch more flies with honey than with vinegar” implies that whatever the method, it’s somehow good to catch flies.

I don’t know about you, but my goal in life is not to be the center of a giant buzzing swarm of flies all the time. We do not generally associate “things flies want to be around” with, you know, positive qualities. In fact, I’m guessing that a particular substance came to mind that was neither honey nor vinegar.

The attention of flies isn’t doing anything for you except obscuring your view of the light of the world. Don’t try to catch them. Try to avoid them. Use honey specifically because it doesn’t catch as many flies. And because a life of sweetness is better, no matter what.

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