In the Eighth Circle

“There should be a special circle in hell reserved for ‘friends’ who from a love of ‘honesty’ report the mean words of others back to us.” Alain de Botton.

I have noticed recently that the meaning of the word ‘honest’ seems to have changed. I say ‘seemed’ because, in fact, the meaning has not changed at all, only the way in which it is increasingly used as a euphemism for spite.

Years ago, when someone was described as honest, it meant that if they found your wallet in the street they’d return it to you with the contents intact, or that they could be relied on to accurately report an event even if the facts didn’t best serve them.

Now when someone says they’re going to be honest with you, there’s a pretty good chance that you’re going to hear something nasty based on an opinion masquerading as fact.

I’m not going down the tired old route of ‘whatever happened to good manners?’ but, seriously, what did happen to good manners?  I have heard people say that to be polite is to be false, that not to express your every, ugly thought is ‘like not being true to yourself, and shit.’

Personally, I like my shop assistants to be falsely polite. I prefer my friends to be honest, in fact I insist upon it, not least because if they have nasty thoughts about me, best get it out in the open, reveal themselves to be not actually friends, and get out of my life.

That said, I have acquaintances who harbour uncharitable opinions about me, or in their minds ‘honest truths’, which they ‘innocently’ let slip now and then. For these people, I require that they keep schtum, maintain a façade of politeness, and keep their opinions to themselves not shape them into rumours that have caused considerable damage to valued friendships. You know who you are.

In Dante’s Inferno, the Eighth Circle of Hell is known as the Malebolge, which roughly translates as ‘evil ditches’. The Malebolge is divided into ten such ditches, or bolgia, the ninth of which is for those who promoted scandals, schisms and caused discord among others.

Interesting that Dante considers this sin to be worse than violence. And in many ways it is. How much worse is the false friend than the outright enemy? You know where you are with an adversary, but a false friend chips away at your confidence, your friendships, your career, your life, ‘for your own good’ and under the guise of honesty.

Why do people do this? I can only assume it is because they hate themselves and their lives so much that they have to destroy the happiness of others in any small way they can. They may not even be consciously aware that they’re doing it. Or maybe I’m being overly charitable. In many cases, I think they know exactly what they are doing.

So, for these sham friends, I wish a magnum of real pain, which translates as a taste of their own medicine. And I tolerate them only because they are ‘friends’ of actual friends, to whom they are merrily reporting the mean words of others. Have fun in the Eighth Circle.

By SJB