You know the saying, “you can catch more flies with honey than with vinegar?” That adage is a suggestion that speaking with kindness will attract more friends than speaking with boldness; that using flowery language rather than bluntly offering information will gain friends, followers and supporters. As a person who tends to speak truth without varnish, I’ve heard that adage in the form of an admonition more than a few times. I’ve needed it more than a few times as well.
Giovanni Torriano, an Italian poet, is credited with originally coining the phrase in the 1600s: “Ill mele catta piu mosche, che non fa I’aceto.” There have been many iterations of the quote in the past 350 years but the gist has remained the same: if you approach people with cautious rather than caustic language you will receive a better response.
That understanding is perhaps a truism but shouldn’t necessarily be considered applicable in all cases. I agree that it’s better to convince people through conversation, convention and convenience, rather than a demand for compliance. As students of human nature, we can easily understand that convenience is preferred by our basic instinct to seek physical and psychological comfort. However, convenience and compassion are sometimes the enemy of objective truth.
Abraham Lincoln is reported to have said, “A drop of honey catches more flies than a gallon of gall. So with men. If you would win a man to your cause, first convince him that you are his sincere friend. Therein is a drop of honey which catches his heart, which, say what he will, is the highroad to his reason.”
I’m sure Honest Abe would have also asserted that intentionally convincing someone that you are his friend while not having his best interests at heart would be less than virtuous.
If you can convey the same amount of truthful information in a nice way, I agree that's preferable. However, if truth is lost in the conveyance of thought because you’re overly concerned with mitigating the feelings of the person you’re conversing with, the blunt truth is preferential. In short, truth must trump feelings.
While politics is clearly and incontrovertibly relational, political campaigns have developed into something entirely different. In fact, the political campaign version of, “you can catch more flies with honey” must be, “you can catch more flies with money.” The amount of political dollars spent in Alabama alone during this primary season is truly staggering. Those numbers should make us all question why we have allowed professional politicos holding perpetual positions to have such a huge impact on our daily lives.
But I digress.
As this primary season closes, it’s worth reflecting upon what messages are working with Alabama voters and what level of honesty is being accepted as truth. Are politicians running for office being truthful in the way they are representing themselves and their record? Are they using more honey or vinegar as they seek to gain favor and votes? Are they employing honey to lure voters without regard to their actual beliefs and/or intentions?
Honey without regard for the truth has seemingly been the rule rather than the exception in Alabama politics this year. In a state where we are literally last place in education, politicians from Montgomery to Mobile boldly claimed their positive record leading public schools. In a state that speaks loudly on behalf of the sanctity of life, political candidates claimed victory while simultaneously demanding exceptions to allow abortions. In a state where conservative ideology reigns, politicians who aided and celebrated liberal candidates were casually accepted as Republican candidates. In a state where lockdowns and vaccines were mandated, personal freedoms were farcically touted. In a state where taxpayer dollars are routinely spent like water, a focus on fiscal constraint was falsely communicated. Are these examples merely honey-filled rhetoric to further the cause or are they blatant falsehoods?
In Alabama, the gold standard of elections seems to be unlimited honey for certain political candidates with an extra dose of vinegar for their opponents. Honey for me, but not for thee? The level of political vitriol among seemingly similar candidates seems to be unceasing. Mudslinging is creating fatigue even amongst the most interested of the electorate. There is very little charity in the words of our candidates or their spokespeople when they are asked about their compatriots in contest. In fact, many seem to be in a match of who can be the loudest clanging cymbal rather than who can be the most truthful representative of the people.
It’s fairly clear to me that there is little truth in advertising when it comes to our homegrown Alabama candidates. Claiming credit where credit is not due while simultaneously pretending to have no role in anything remotely negative in this state is apparently the new normal.
Scrubbing controversial opinions and ignoring personal responsibility when it benefits a campaign seems to be an acceptable level of truth. I disagree wholeheartedly. Truth counts. Character counts. Honey at the expense of truth isn’t truth at all, it’s just a sweet sticky mess.
Stephanie Holden Smith is an experienced policy analyst, political commentator, and public speaker. Smith has worked and volunteered in Governmental Affairs in Alabama since 1997, including lobbying for a Fortune 500 company and serving as Deputy Director of Finance for the State of Alabama. She is currently the principal of Thatcher Coalition LLC. To contact Stephanie, please go to http://thatchercoalition.com. The views and opinions expressed here are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the policy or position of 1819 News. To comment, please send an email with your name and contact information Commentary@1819News.com.