Flatter and Praise Prudently
By Father Kenneth Wasilewski
Listed in the section of the Catechism of the Catholic Church about the Eighth Commandment is a topic whose inclusion might surprise us at first. It makes sense that actions like lying and detraction would be mentioned, but between the catechism’s discussion of these two offenses, there are two sections dealing with other, perhaps less obvious ways of offending against the Eighth Commandment. 
One of these involves the issue of flattery. We might not think this constitutes much of a concern in our moral lives. Indeed, in many, if not most cases, it might be relegated to the venial sin department. But the catechism includes it nonetheless because it, like the other offenses discussed, is rightly considered an offense against the truth. Looking a little closer, we can see why.
Flattery and adulation are examples of excessively or insincerely praising another. Obviously, if I’m being insincere with the praise I offer someone, then I’m communicating something that runs contrary to what I really think. And even though what I say might include nice, kind and even supportive words, if they aren’t true, then there’s a problem. Hence, it’s something to guard against. 
Flattery might even cause harm to the recipient of my praise in the process. He or she may be led to a false conclusion about my thoughts or feelings. Further, if my true thoughts were to become known, then it’s likely to cause even greater harm to that person, knowing that the nice things I said were not true. As such, it becomes easier to see why flattery can be wrong. 
In a similar way, if our praise becomes excessive, it likewise can cease to reflect reality. It may go beyond what is deserved (or what I really believe is deserved). Doing this can also be a corruption of the truth. 
With these examples however, it’s important to remember that they always represent a disconnect between what is said and what is believed or appropriate. In other words, I know that I’m being insincere or that my praise goes too far. It’s important to keep this in mind lest we become fearful of offering sincere praise or we fail to offer any — especially when it is due. 
There are two other considerations regarding flattery and adulation the catechism also points out. Namely, when it is offered for morally wrong behavior or when it is selfishly motivated. 
Praising someone for immoral behavior makes us complicit in that behavior to some degree — and the more seriously wrong that behavior is, the more serious our wrongdoing becomes. This is especially dangerous given our current cultural context when many voices around us seek not just tolerance of actions which are incompatible with Christianity, but which are quickly seeking to prohibit public disagreement with those actions. 
Moreover, many of those same cultural voices have (wrongfully) equated tolerance with full-fledged acceptance and even celebration of certain behaviors. Avoiding saying or doing something which seems to offer support or praise for wrongdoing has become a more complicated issue in recent years. Ironically, sometimes the voice crying for tolerance ends up attempting to drown out any voice that is not its own.
The other consideration — regarding motivation for offering praise — can likewise be tricky. It’s tempting to offer praise (either sincerely or insincerely) hoping that doing so will offer me some benefit or advantage. We tend to like receiving recognition or attention for our accomplishments and abilities. Therefore, it’s easy to offer someone something that will likely be well received, hoping that we’ll receive something we want in return — either immediately or eventually. This can be a double temptation though — one that we might attempt to use to curry favor with someone else — or one that might be used on us by someone trying to curry our favor. 
For all of these reasons, navigating the waters of either offering or receiving praise, are best traversed with humility, honesty and above all, prudence.