aka: Speak Truth To Power
"Seek counsel of him who makes you weep, and not of him who makes you laugh."
— Arabic Proverb
You've got to pick yourself an advisor, but, you have a problem. Everyone around you is a Yes-Man
: spineless, coddling, and/or too concerned with gaining your favor or attaining their own aims to give the truth. Luckily, there's at least one person who isn't afraid to tell it like it is.
This kind of advisor isn't cruel, just blunt and outspoken
. They'll never let their charge take the easy way out, never sugar coat the truth, and never be afraid to criticize. As a result, their wisdom is either completely appreciated by their students, or violently rejected if said student is the egotistical type
If he isn't a mentor, but a regular part of the group instead, then he's usually the Deadpan Snarker
, the constant criticizer, and more or less the one that annoys everyone but still gets their complete respect. All in all, this is who you want when it comes to finding a most trusted ally, and it's probably better to find people like this than your average minion.
The Good Chancellor
is this as a matter of course. Often the role of The Jester
in a royal court, getting away with mouthing off to the king either by couching criticism in satire, or by being (or appearing to be
) mentally incompetent
and thus not a threat. Another term frequently used in the past was "Naysmith" (which survives in the modern surname Naismith), meaning the one person in a royal court who could openly say "no" to the king's plans without fear of censure, forcing the king to accept criticism—the opposite of a Yes-Man
See also Hire The Critic
and The Consigliere
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Anime and Manga
- Genkai in YuYu Hakusho is one, whose favorite pastime is to call her student a dumbass/moron/dimwit/etc. and outline just how stupidly he's dealing with the current situation. All in all, she isn't afraid to trick, insult, or nearly kill Yusuke if it means he'll finally stop fooling around and see things clearly.
- Also Kurama, who is both kindhearted and brutally honest, due both to hundreds of years of experience being a bandit and to experiencing the redeeming Power of Love firsthand. He lampshaded this with his training Kuwabara. Hiei, by his sense of honor, would hold back while training him. Kurama will show him clearly just how much he is outclassed.
- Code Geass: CC is this to Lelouch because she calls him on his bull shit and points out things he doesn't want to recognize, but she's not a perfect example. While she is generally honest, she also has a habit of withholding important information as well. Like the reason she gave him Geass in the first place, or the fact that she knows what happened to his mother (as well as knowing her personally).
- This is a central trope in The Melancholy of Haruhi Suzumiya. The eponymous character is initially a self-centered jackass who finds it difficult to understand that other people have feelings, and may even disagree with her. Unfortunately, she's also an extremely powerful Reality Warper who may have created the universe, and because of this, very few people are willing to tell her when she's wrong. That is where Kyon, the series' POV character, comes in. He is deeply pessimistic and rarely a moment goes by when he does not insult Haruhi...but he's also the only person willing to tell her the truth, and it's his unwavering honesty that kickstarts her Character Development into a better person. Haruhi, for her part, usually pretends to ignore him, but the first season's finale makes it pretty clear that she values him more than any other person, and he's the deputy of the group she forms in all but title.
- Batman: Alfred is like this to Bruce Wayne, and, as a result, he's one of the people Batman respects the most.
- Daine Jir, an Imperial officer from the first Star Wars. He only appears in one scene, but he criticizes Darth Vader to his face and Vader listens. Also he always listens to his stormtroopers and fighter pilots because they're the people on the front lines. He just doesn't get along with anyone else.
- The Star Wars Expanded Universe establishes that Vader is a Father to His Men when it comes to the front line troops, but that he typically has a hate-on for the officer corps. That said, any officer sufficiently sharp to keep up while working for him can face rapid promotion (probably due to how the insufficiently sharp officers are disciplined), so Vader presumably respects officers who have proven themselves capable. In this case, Daine Jir had proven himself a capable officer with a bluntly honest manner about him and Vader was impressed enough to promote him for it.
- In public Stephen of Django Unchained seems to be a textbook Sycophantic Servant, sucking up to his masters and snapping at anyone who seems to oppose them. This is simply because he knows Candie, like any slave owner, would never stand for a slave or any black person showing himself to be smarter than him. In private, Stephen gives Candie meaningful advise that he highly values, despite thinking black people are of biologically inferior intelligence.
- Niccolò Machiavelli advises princes to avoid flatterers, although their advisers shouldn't be seen as disrespecting them either.
- William Cecil does this for Queen Elizabeth I in Philippa Gregory's The Virgin's Lover. Not sure how close to the truth the book is though.
- The prophet Nathan to David in The Old Testament, making this Older Than Feudalism.
- Discussed in the Dystopia novel The Unincorporated Man. When the main character becomes the leader of a group of rebels, he has a Black Shirt as his advisor, because he thinks the group is out of touch with what normal people think. (Mind you, he's smart enough to choose someone who considers him a friend and won't betray him.)
- In A Song of Ice and Fire, Davos Seaworth is this to Stannis Baratheon.
- King Robert calls Ned Stark to the south to be this. Stark nearly loses his job for doing it too well.
- In Mercedes Lackey's Heralds of Valdemar books, it is built into the Heraldic system that the King or Queen always has a Monarch's Own Herald, ready to serve as trustworthy friend, confidant, and brutally honest advisor if needed. Part of their purpose is to call the Monarch out on anything questionable, stupid, or pointless they try to do. The breakdown of this relationship between Queen Selenay and Queen's Own Herald Talamir causes numerous political problems and plot points in the main time period covered by the books.
- The Star Wars Expanded Universe has Captain Pellaeon, second-in-command to Grand Admiral Thrawn. Pellaeon is a reasonably smart man, and is always pointing out apparent flaws in Thrawn's plans. Usually Thrawn has already accounted for said flaws, but tolerates (even invites, at times) the criticism because Pellaeon will occasionally point out something he hasn't thought of, and Pellaeon is always respectful about it in any case.
Live Action TV
- Babylon 5: Londo Mollari is unhappily married to three wives: One (Timov) who unabashedly criticises him at every turn, and two others (Muriel and Daggair) who act nice to him in person while plotting behind his back. When he's permitted to divorce two of the three, Timov is the one he keeps even though she's given him no reason to like her. When she asks why Londo chose her, he explains that she was chosen because he would always know where he stood with her, unlike with his other two wives.
- Londo's assistant (and eventual successor as ambassador) Vir Cotto was one of these by accident, due to the sheer naivete he had regarding the way the Centauri political system functioned. Much later on, when Londo was next in line for the throne, and Vir was not only the Centauri ambassador on Babylon 5 but also surprisingly influential overall for such a joke position he wondered how Vir could have come as far as he did, done what he had, and still have both a personal moral code AND faith in others. "I wonder if you have even been paying attention!"
- The Inspector Lynley Mysteries: DS Barbara Havers is this to her partner, DI Lynley. Although it took her some time to earn the position, by the end of season two she can get away with saying things no one else could because she has earned his trust repeatedly over the course of their partnership, and though he might snap at her, she knows that's as far as it will go.
- Revolution: Captain Jeremy Baker is this to General Bass Monroe. Episode 10 had Baker discussing the possibility of capturing Miles Matheson alive with Monroe. Then in episode 17, when Monroe decides to execute Baker because he thinks Baker tried to have him assassinated, Baker decides to give his friend the total truth and a The Reason You Suck Speech. He still got killed off, but he was spot on with everything that he said.
- The West Wing: All of President Bartlet's senior staff are fully capable of speaking truth to power; it's absolutely necessary, given who they're advising! Leo and Toby tend to give out the most unmitigated criticism, but Josh, Sam, CJ and even Charlie know not to hold back when the President needs a clear and unvarnished analysis of the situation at hand. Will has difficulty with this at first - in fact, he's given a Secret Test for it by Bartlet, and fails - but gets better at it as he settles into his new senior staff role.
- The BBC miniseries Gunpowder, Treason & Plot (about the Stuart succession and the Guy Fawkes plot) has two of these: Bothwell is the harsh but intelligent adviser to Mary, Queen of Scots, and probably the only person around her she can really trust, even if she takes too long to realize it. In the second episode, Lord Cecil is this trope for King James, basically masterminding the fullest way to exploit the gunpowder plot and the anti-Catholic sentiment surrounding it.
- JAG: Admiral Chegwidden is depicted this way in his onscreen dealings with the two SecNavs during his time in office.
- Louis Howe is this to Franklin Roosevelt in Warm Springs and in Real Life. He tells Franklin to get back into politics, and to stop wasting time building a polio rehab center in Warm Springs.
- Soren in Fire Emblem: Radiant Dawn (GC).
- Arl Eamon of Dragon Age: Origins is this towards Alistair if he takes the throne of Ferelden. His brother, Bann Teagan, comes off as one as well in his interactions with Loghain and the rest of the bannorn.
- Stern the Destructor of the Magical Girl Lyrical Nanoha As Portable games is this to her Lord Dearche. As she always says and later shows, she's absolutely loyal to her Lord and truly does respect her, but as the Material of Wisdom, she could not abide by any plan or opinion of her Lord that is illogical or counter-productive to their goals. Lord Dearche, for her part, tends to relent when Stern argues against her, but not without a lot of grumbling first.
- Simon Cowell: "I'm not being rude, but..."
- Actually there are quite a few fans who feel that Idol has consistently gotten worse since Cowell's departure since he was always the only judge unafraid to tell it like it is. He wasn't interested in making friends or sparing feelings; he often delivered hard truths the contestants needed to hear as they'd likely had a lifetime of coddling by people more interested in stroking their ego than nurturing any talent they might have had.
- Italo Balbo, The Dragon of Benito Mussolini, who didn't trust the Germans and advised Mussolini to continue with the alliance with France and maybe build up an alliance with UK as well. Mussolini refused and Balbo answered with "You will all wind up shining the shoes of the Germans". Guess what Mussolini's last job was.
- Walt Disney had a notorious hatred for Yes-Men. He would actively seek out people like Bill Peet and Ward Kimball who were known to disagree with him on pretty much everything, because he wanted to hear as many opinions as possible in order to make his films as good as they could be.
- The old Imperial Chinese Bureaucracy had the anonymous memorandum system, where any official could send straight to the Emperor (bypassing the entire bureaucracy) a critique of what was wrong with the current state of administration (up to and including denouncing him in name). Pity the poor sucker who had to give the memo to the Emperor, though. Others went up to tell him to his face, and then would kill themselves if they were really serious about it.