Ancient Persians used to kill some messengers whose sole fault was that they brought home truthful bad news, say, of a battle lost.

The propensity to blame the bearer of bad news was common not just among Persians. In Plutarch’s Lives we read: “The first messenger, who announced Lucullus’s arrival, was so unpleasant to Tigranes that, he was punished by having his head chopped off; and no man dared to bring further news. Without any intelligence at all, Tigranes sat while war was already blazing around him, giving ear only to those who flattered him“.

A related sentiment was expressed in Antigone by Sophocles as “no one loves the messenger who brings bad news“.

Persian Messenger syndrome is well alive today, albeit in a less lethal version. It is actually very dangerous in many careers to be a carrier of unwelcome news. Sometimes lawyers, knowing their clients will hate them if they recommend an unwelcome but wise settlement, will carry on to disaster. The proper antidote to Persian Messenger Syndrome, and its self-delusion effects, is to develop the habit of welcoming bad news. Charlie Munger and Warren Buffett would say “Always tell us the bad news promptly. It is only the good news that can wait“.

Reactions to the whistleblowing organizations, such as WikiLeak of Julian Assange, shows how ingrained in our mind is the “shoot the messengerbias.